In an unfunny, slightly maudlin comedy whose momentary oddity doesn't save it from being utterly predictable, the now 88-year-old Michael Caine gets a juicy but slightly rancid role one can understand his not being able to resist as a bitter, drunken writer called Harris Shaw. Shaw has been stewing in Johnny Walker Black and feeding his nasty cough with cigars for many decades. Maybe it's half a century since he had a big hit novel called Atomic Autumn. Later we learn about his wife Elizabeth - later we learn a lot of stuff. Stanbridge, the publisher, whose success grew out of this book, has passed the mantle on to his daughter Lucy (Aubrey Plaza, a dry comic whose edge is largely muted here, though she's still good), whose misjudgments with Young Adult novels have got the house floundering financially and a former lover called Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman) nagging to buy her out . Lucy and Harris Shaw are going to be an odd couple and this is going to be a road movie and a buddy picture.

Lucy and her assistant Rachel (Ellen Wong) find out there's an old contract by which Harris Shaw still, after all these years, contractually owes the publisher another manuscript. It's promised it won't be touched by an editor's hand but he must in return go on a book tour to promote it. They find Shaw is still living in Westchester and he's got a manuscript. Lucy and Rachel seize on this as a way to save Stanbridge & Co. from Jack and the receivers.

Much of the run-time is taken up with the resulting unwilling, cranky, drunken tour. Shaw won't read from the new book at his appearances and prefers to piss on it or set fire to it, and his talks consist of chants of "bullshite." A young audience develops and the conceit is that "bullshite" becomes a meme for fans who buy Harris Shaw T shirts but are hard to coax into purchasing the book or reading it. Can social media create a bestseller? The movie would have us believe that once the tour publicity reaches what Lucy calls "critical mass," it can and will. Interesting, trendy ideas here but maybe ultimately not very useful ones since all this doesn't seem to relate to anything that has ever actually happened. The idea of a drunken author whose bad behavior gets him banished from bookstores so his tour appearances shift to dive bars is an amusing one. The notion that he and his young woman publisher would share double motel rooms and sometimes even double beds is merely incongruous. But it's a necessary stage in actor-turned-author Anthony Grieco's fantasy that the initially grumpy and hostile publisher-writer rapport will morph into a sweet, mutually nurturing one.

Michael Caine of course is more than up to the business required to simulate an aging, drunken, depressive, angry, and long inactive (or at least unpublished) writer. You might say this is a crude British version of J.D. Salinger. Since Cane really is very old, really does walk with a cane (Caine with a cane), and appears to have a nasty cough, somehow this impersonation, appearing in the context of a predictable, tonally uneven movie, is saddening and even worrying. Yes, it was a juicy role, in a way. But one hopes Caine will get another good one while he still can, to chase away the memory of this one.

Best Sellers , 100 mins., debuted at the Berlinale, Jun. 2021; it was also shown at Melbourne and Karlovy. It opens in the US and Canada Sept. 17 and in the US in limited theatrical release and on demand via Vudu and AppleTV. Metascore: 59%.