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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Danny Collins 2015 * * Stars

Danny CollinsDirector: Dan Fogelman
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that moviegoers love Al Pacino. He's an appealing actor. He's a likable actor. Heck, he's simply a legend. He is however, heavily miscast playing an aging rocker in 2015's Danny Collins (the film I'm about to review). This is an uneven performance complete with a veritable level of patchiness. Al as demonstrated in "Collins", is not much of a singer. He also looks a little counterfeit playing the piano. At a running time of 106 minutes, you sense that Serpico is only in these proceedings for total name recognition. He ventures over to his softer side like he did in 2002's Simone but you kinda wish he'd just stick to being gangster. There are other actors more suitable to take his place here.

Written and directed by Dan Fogelman (his first stint behind the camera) and inspired by the life of known, folk singer Steve Tilston (I'm thinking what's on screen is somewhat fictional since the opening titles say "this is kind of a true story, sort of"), Danny Collins is the type of film that mildly begins while not having an actual ending. The screenplay is from the land of vapid. Fogelman (as mentioned in the last sentence) penned The Guilt Trip which I reviewed two years ago. In that write up, I talked about how his script was achingly thin and lacked bite. Ditto here for "Collins". This is 2015's Almost Famous as in almost, not quite. It's also Jerry Maguire minus the gerrymandering, a real disappointment to say the least.

The story commences at L.A.'s Greek Theatre. Danny Collins (played by Al "I wear the same outfits in the movies as I do in the public eye" Pacino) is set to go on and entertain a sold out show. He's a washed up singer, a guy who hasn't had a hit song in over forty years. But there he is, getting thousands of fans to spew the words to his signature hook, "Hey, Baby Doll" (just think a poor man's version of a Neil Diamond ditty). Now Danny seems to have a lot of money. He should be happy but he's not. He's got fancy cars, a mansion, a private jet, and plenty of senior citizens who'll pay to watch his tired concerts. He also drinks like a fish, does cocaine out of a cross (around his neck), and has a young fiance who cheats on him. Anyway, he decides that his life now needs a little dose of redemption. His inspiration: A letter written to him over four decades ago. The author: The late, great John Lennon. After reading said letter, Danny decides to forgo the rest of his tour and do two important things. He's gonna try to write some brand new songs (which we the audience don't exactly get a chance to hear) and fly to New Jersey to form a relationship with the son he never met (Tom Donnelly played by Bobby Cannavale). Throughout everything, you get to hear background music via John Lennon's greatest hits album, The John Lennon Collection. Lennon's songs are sledgehammered to remind you of Danny's promise to change his life and go straight. They seem however, to mask the fact that his written words to Danny aren't mentioned enough with their purpose being sort of ill-defined. This gives "Collins" an inconsistent tone as funny/despairing fodder.

Erraticness and unhealthy, rock star vices aside, I mentioned in the first paragraph that Pacino is out of place in the role of a second rate Frankie Valli. He's not the only one. Almost every co-star here is the victim of some sort of miscasting mishap. A fine actor in his own right, I really didn't buy Christopher Plummer as Frank Grubman (Danny's 85 year-old manager, uh huh). I also couldn't picture Jennifer Garner as a lower class housewife in Samantha Donnelly (Pacino's estranged son's spouse). Finally, I found Annette Bening to be underdeveloped and unnecessary playing Pacino's character's no-touch love interest. They have okay chemistry but I was kinda hoping their tryst wasn't such a nondescript tease. Honestly, the only actor that didn't strike me as being miscast was Bobby Cannavale. That's probably because he pretty much looked like he could be related to Pacino.

As for the screenplay which doesn't do the actors/actresses justice to begin with, I thought it was airy and lacking in research when it came to the intricacies of rock 'n' roll. Dan Fogelman would rather give his players cringe-inducing dialogue to occupy (almost every character interaction has this) than delve into the raucousness of musical stenography and has-been hedonism. Touting itself as an uneven mix of comedy and drama, Danny Collins provides us with zingers at the end of each scene that seem to flop in the wind.

All in all, this is a film with dangling loose ends, a sort of VH1's Where Are They Now? without a true emotional tug. It tries to succeed with some good intentions and I like the fact that (spoiler alert) it takes the viewer down a darker pathway via the notion of Pacino's character's son being stricken with a blood disease. However, the bulk of it is ultimately featherweight material at best. In the future, I'm looking forward to something better (musically) like The Who documentary, Lambert & Stamp. Nevertheless, here's my overall rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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