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Review: Danny Collins

Christopher Plummer, Al Pacino and Katrina Čas star in Bleecker Street's "Danny Collins"

If someone pitched a movie to me in which Al Pacino plays an aging rock star trying to kick his coke habit and make amends with the family he left behind, I’d initially assume it’d be gritty, raw and vulgar based on its star’s repertoire. Much to my surprise, which, unfortunately, was my only surprise, Danny Collins may be the warmest, cuddliest Pacino vehicle I’ve ever seen; a sort-of-based-on-a-true-story redemption tale that’s more in the upbeat spirit of Rain Man than say, the darker realism of The Wrestler. It’s pleasant enough, mainly due to the performances from its terrific ensemble, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of eating at a Denny’s. You’ve consumed this all before, and it’s tasted much better elsewhere.

Pacino does shine as the title character, though, who when we first meet him is stuck in a greatest-hits limbo of comeback shows. Sick and tired of singing his hit singles from thirty years ago, including the groan inducing “Sweet Caroline” rip-off, “Baby Doll,” Collins’ self-medicates with a variety of substances every night to try and relieve his depression. That is, until one day, his friend and manager, Frank Grubman (the great Christopher Plummer) discovers a 40-year-old letter addressed to Danny that was never delivered, from none other than John Lennon. Inspired to come clean and reconnect with his estranged son he never knew (Bobby Cannavale), along with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and daughter (the young Giselle Eisenberg), Danny sets out to visit them in New Jersey and right the wrongs of his troubled past.

What ensues is as fluffy and harmless as you’d expect, but the plot is abound in predictable contrivances. As charming as some sequences may be, and as good as these actors are, the characters they inhabit never feel like fully fleshed human beings. Apart from a few scenes where Pacino flirts with a potential love interest named Mary, a hotel manager endearingly played by Annette Benning, the gears of the plot move too fast to allow these people anytime to breathe. We have not one, but two characters suffering from serious illnesses, along with numerous financial struggles, identity crises, trouble with addiction, past regrets and so on.

Danny Collins is the directorial debut of Dan Fogelman, the screenwriter of Crazy, Stupid, Love and more recent Disney pictures such as Tangled, Bolt and the two Cars films. Based on his previous work, and now this most recent effort, it’s clear that this guy enjoys crafting crowd-pleasing entertainment that leaves audiences feeling all tingly inside as they exit the theater. Despite my cold-blooded cynicism that’s prevalent throughout this review, I’d be lying if I said that this movie didn’t make me smile or chuckle here and there thanks to the valiant efforts of its appealing cast.

Yet, aren’t you utterly bored reading about this movie? ‘Cause I certainly was while watching it most of the time, and sometimes a flavorless film can be even more difficult to analyze than one that’s an absolute train wreck. This isn’t to say that it was painful to endure, or even remotely bad, just… average.

There’s nothing wrong with comfort food, but Danny Collins feels too comfortable; too afraid to provide anything other than a safe, cushy environment for moviegoers who are too scared to venture out into new territory within this all too familiar tale. For some viewers, this will be just fine, but apart from the juicy performances from its exceptional cast, everything else is awfully stale.

Rating: R

Director: Dan Fogelman

Al Pacino
Annette Bening
Bobby Cannavale
Jennifer Garner
Christopher Plummer

Film Length: 106 minutes

Release Date: March 27, 2015

Distributor: Bleecker Street

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