‘Danny Collins’
Director:
Dan Fogelman
Stars: Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“Danny Collins,” an every now and then almost tolerable dramedy about a soulsick singer (Al Pacino), earns copious bonus points for what it doesn’t do. When movies even deign to make leads out of olds, they invariably wind up treated like babies. Both Pacino and “Danny Collins” writer-director Dan Fogelman know that well; they’re responsible for, respectively, “Stand-Up Guys” and “Last Vegas” — both dire exercises in lowest-common-denominator geezer pandering. “Danny Collins,” improbably, doesn’t feature a single Viagra joke — all the more amazing since its hero is engaged to a half-his-age hottie (Katrina Cas). Like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” franchise, it doesn’t turn thespian greats into cuddly cuties. 

Also like the “Marigold” series, it doesn’t have much going for it apart from what it doesn’t do. But, yes, Pacino’s Danny Collins is a tanned boozer who was once an acclaimed folk singer-songwriter. Instead, he let a series of massive hits, including one not too too bad knockoff of “Sweet Caroline” (courtesy Ryan Adams), turn him into a kitschy stadium sell-out god, throwing on a strained grin as he busts out the billionth run-through of his chart-toppers. (No offense, Neil Diamond.) When he learns, quite belatedly, that John Lennon was once so taken with his early work that he sent him a fawning fan letter, Collins has an awakening. He cancels his latest money-gobbling tour and decides to reinvent himself as a serious artist. More importantly, perhaps, he tries to connect with the grown son (Bobby Cannavale) who emerged from a one-night stand, who has long been hostile to ever meeting the biological father who never tried to play dad.

On one hand, this is a film that charges into exploring deep regrets and emotional pain; on the other, it winds up rectifying them in ways even less dignified than Collins’ musical output. Not only does Cannavale’s Tom, justifiably bitter, come around far quicker than he should, but he’s also gifted, by Fogelman’s script, with a possibly fatal disease. The whole of “Danny Collins” works like that; like its protagonist, it makes some good strides, then ruins it by falling back on the route of least resistance. For Danny, that’s a purgatory of drinks, drugs and phoned-in stage performances; for the film, it’s tired cliches, one annoying child actor (Tom’s peppy, ADD-addled daughter) and a romantic subplot — between Danny and Annette Bening’s nowhere, New Jersey hotel manager — whose hesitance would be more laudable if it didn’t buy into the code that an old actor can flirt with but never even kiss an age-appropriate actress. 

The 50-something Bening isn’t even age-appropriate, though Pacino is three years younger than her real-life husband. Still, their characters are allowed to some fun banter — or at least banter that, thanks to the actors, has the illusion of fun. As ever, Bening is arguably more winning when playing romantic-comedic leads than serious ones. She might laugh too much at Danny’s dumb flirtations, but in a way that sounds both enticed and vaguely revolted — as though she can’t believe she’s chuckling at this megastar’s tried-and-true antics. Naturally their romance will stay on the level of quips, but the thrill of two pros sharing volleys, falling in love over their wit, is something rare in modern movies, and especially in a movie like “Danny Collins.” When they’re on screen the film momentarily doesn’t seem like a chore.

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