It has been more than 20 years since Al Pacino went rogue, "Hoo-ah!"-ing his way through Scent of a Woman. And with only a couple of exceptions (OK, maybe one: Donnie Brasco), the actor's screen work has seemed cartoonish ever since. You love it, you hate it, you tolerate it, but the work Pacino has been doing - in projects good, bad, and meh - is steeped in Eau de Pacino.
That's even more the case with Danny Collins, a mush of it's-lonely-at-the-top cliches about a big-time pop star (think Neil Diamond crossed with Billy Joel crossed with Barry Manilow - oooh) with a fancy L.A. house, a fake tan, a frisky girlfriend, a Mercedes, and a private jet, and without a new song to his credit in 30 years. At concerts, it's all oldies. "Hey, Baby Doll" is Collins' signature tune, a '70s hit that he now performs for audiences, many of whose members are in their 70s. (Pacino actually sings the song in front of a crowd - oooh.)
Then, at a birthday bash, his longtime manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer), pulls out a lost letter. It was written to a young Danny Collins by John Lennon, who had just read an interview in a music mag with Collins, candid about the anxiety and dread he faced as a budding singer/songwriter. The letter from the ex-Beatle was full of encouragement and affirmation of Collins' talent. What if he had read it when it was first sent? Would the course of Danny's career have changed? (A real-life letter from Lennon to another singer/songwriter, Steve Tilston, provided the germ of the idea for Danny Collins writer/director Dan Fogelman.)
Well, Danny's feeling the change now. He tells Frank to cancel the tour. He bids the latest of his barely-out-of-her-teens housemates (Katarina Cas) adieu and flies back to the home country: New Jersey.
There lives a son he's never known (Bobby Cannavale, bristling with resentment), a daughter-in-law (Jennifer Garner), and their adorable, attention-deficit-disordered girl (Giselle Eisenberg) - Danny's grandchild.
As Danny tries to ply and buy his way into their lives, he holes up at a nearby Hilton, where he works out new material at the piano that has been rolled into his room. He also works on persuading the hotel manager - Annette Bening - to accept his invitations for dinner.
Comedy, pathos, and some schmaltzy couplets about the changing seasons follow forthwith. The chorus for Danny's new song doesn't end in a bunch of "Hoo-ah!"s, but it wouldn't be a surprise if it did.
Danny Collins ** 1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Dan Fogelman.
With Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner. Distributed by Bleecker Street.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.
Parent's guide: R (language, sex, drugs, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Five and Carmike Ritz Center, N.J.EndText