Al Pacino makes most of 'Danny Collins' 

click to enlarge Al Pacino is good as an aging rock star trying to redeem his life in “Danny Collins.” - COURTESY HOPPER STONE/BLEEKER STREET
  • Al Pacino is good as an aging rock star trying to redeem his life in “Danny Collins.”
Compromised by fame, drugs and a bogus tan, an aging rock star tries to get his original beat back after receiving a decades-lost letter from John Lennon in “Danny Collins.” Good actors create bright spots but cannot make a gooey story convincing in this dramedy marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Fogelman.

“Kind of based on a true story, a little bit” are the words with which Fogelman introduces this blend of boomer-geared redemption comedy and tear-jerky melodrama. The Lennon incident actually happened (to British folksinger Steve Tilston), but the title character, played by Al Pacino, is fictional.v Following a 1971-set flashback, in which Danny Collins is a rising young troubadour exuding integrity, we meet Pacino’s present-day Danny – a drunk, coked-up fame-basker who lives in a mansion and, by his own admission, looks ridiculous with his much-younger girlfriend (Katarina Cas) and halfway-buttoned shirts. He rakes in dough from performing “Sweet Caroline”-like oldies on greatest-hits tours.

Complacency shatters when Danny receives from his manager, Frank (Christopher Plumber), a gift in the form of a letter John Lennon sent Danny in 1971. In it, the former Beatle advises Danny to stay true to himself. Providing his phone number, Lennon invites Danny to call. Would Danny have done things differently had he received the letter in 1971, when some thought he’d become the next Dylan?

In crisis mode, Danny hits redemption road. Destination: New Jersey.

There, he visits his estranged construction-worker son Tom (Bobby Cannavale), who despises Danny for having abandoned him. Though Tom tells him to scram, Danny insists on financially helping Tom and his family – pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and ADHD-diagnosed daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg).

Danny wins everyone over after he fast-tracks Hope’s admission to a special-needs school. He also enjoys a flirtation with Mary (Annette Bening), a chirpy age-appropriate (sort of) hotel manager, who inspires him to write his first song in many years.

The comedy largely stems from Danny’s clunky but heartfelt efforts to earn a place in Tom’s family and in Mary’s realm of romantic possibilities. Pacino may not be believable as a pop star, but it’s fun to watch him playing one. Danny is an often amusing and occasionally moving concoction of debauchery, impishness, squandered talent and desire to make his life meaningful.

Yet the film remains a basic case of a cliched story undermining strong performances. Along with a cute child with a disability and a good woman who redeems a morally wobbly protagonist, there also are a make-or-break concert and a cancer revelation.

How Tom’s anger toward Danny quickly dissipates when Danny pays to help Hope (apparently, money can buy you love) is one of numerous potentially compelling scenarios that collapse into phoniness.

Meanwhile, Lennon (who also dominates the premise the current Spanish release “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed), sings more songs than Danny does. That might be a blessing, but to be fair, Pacino’s earnest attempt at a ballad is rather touching.


Danny Collins

two stars

Starring: Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer

Written and directed by: Dan Fogelman

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

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Anita Katz

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