Combustible Celluloid
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With: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer, Nick Offerman, Josh Peck, Katarina Cas, Giselle Eisenberg, Melissa Benoist, Scott Lawrence
Written by: Dan Fogelman
Directed by: Dan Fogelman
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use and some nudity
Running Time: 108
Date: 03/27/2015

Danny Collins (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lennon Aid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Al Pacino seems miscast in this piece of showbiz hokum, but he uses his own personal energy to make the role seem alive and likable. In Danny Collins, he plays the title character, an aging pop star still performing in big concert halls for equally aging fans, rasping through bubblegum tunes with titles like "Hey Baby Doll."

He's a thorough rock star, with an eccentric mop of sculpted hair and clothes that manage to look both expensive and bad. He wears his shirt unbuttoned several buttons too many for a guy his age. He gulps down whisky, snorts coke from a little cross he wears around his neck and prepares to marry a super-hot girl (Katarina Cas) at least a few decades younger.

Then his longtime agent Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) gives him an unexpected birthday present: a letter from John Lennon, written decades earlier and never delivered, telling him not to let fame change him, and not to give up on his songwriting. (This, as shown in an epilogue, is the only aspect of this story that is true; it actually happened to folk singer Steve Tilston.)

Of course, Danny has already done all that, but the letter gets him thinking. He decides to move to New Jersey, and start writing songs again. He checks into a non-swanky hotel, run by Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening), and begins cheerily flirting with her. He also tries to reconcile with his grown son (Bobby Cannavale), and his son's wife (Jennifer Garner) and daughter (Giselle Eisenberg).

As you can tell, the story arc is pretty goopy and altogether quite predictable. Not to mention that the beginning of the movie is a little too good, and it can make the rest seem like a letdown. In a flashback, Nick Offerman plays a music journalist interviewing the young Danny, and his riffing, fearlessly pushy line readings inspire huge laughs that the movie can never possibly equal later on.

Things get worse when the movie throws in not one, but two disease-of-the-week subplots, as if trying for a "You'll laugh! You'll cry!" vibe. But at every turn, the actors slide right into the groove of their characters, conveying inner lives that seem to exist beyond the margins of the screen.

Cannavale does a remarkable job bringing a history as a dedicated family man, carrying a lifelong grudge against his own father, and then eventually, believably softening up to him. Plummer likewise makes us believe that he has known Danny Collins his entire life. Bening is another delight, playing her warmest and sexiest character in a long while.

It's all the work of screenwriter Dan Fogelman, who makes his directorial debut, after writing or co-writing several animated movies (Cars, Bolt, Tangled, Cars 2) and some other movies that might have been human cartoons (Fred Claus, The Guilt Trip, Last Vegas).

Even if he can't convey a terribly realistic world of rock 'n' roll in Danny Collins, and doesn't conjure up any truly impressive pictures, he has at least concentrated on his actors and on giving them decent dialogue. The movie itself is like Danny; it's gaudy, a little flabby, and quite a bit shameless, but it has an almost irresistible charm and a huge smile, and you can't help but smile yourself.

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