Channeling equal parts Tom Jones and Barry Manilow, Al Pacino delivers an impressive performance as the title character in “Danny Collins,” a sweet but shallow movie about a rock star who hasn’t written a song in decades but can still sell out a stadium.
The crowds come to hear him croon his old hits, especially the cheesy singalong-inducing “Hey Baby Doll,” which sounds very much like something Neil Diamond would have churned out around 1970. Ultra-tan with longish hair, a pristine set of teeth and his shirt open one button too far, Danny looks the part of the aging rocker. And with his 20- something blonde fiancee and a cross pendant full of cocaine, he acts it too.
But everything shifts when Danny is given a letter he was supposed to receive in 1971 from none other than John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The pair urged the young musician to value art over fame. They didn’t want him to become, well, exactly what he has become — an old guy phoning it in just to make the big bucks.
So begins the soul-searching. The coke gets flushed down the toilet, the fiancee gets pushed aside and Danny heads off to suburban New Jersey, where he plans to hang out in a hotel, write new music and maybe even begin a relationship with the adult son he’s never bothered to meet.
In other words, it’s redemption time.
Pacino has been taking roles in smaller movies lately, and he’s made some interesting choices. This is a good fit for him, and he has no trouble pulling off the drunken, flirtatious and slightly eccentric spotlight seeker. Danny is an entertainer who aims to please the masses, even if it’s at the expense of those closest to him, and Pacino exudes enough charm to make the character forgivable.
The supporting players deliver memorable performances, too. Bobby Cannavale is weary and conflicted as Danny’s estranged son while Jennifer Garner, playing the son’s wife, gives the movie a powerful jolt of emotion. And Annette Bening seems to be having fun playing a hotel manager Danny is trying to woo. The two have plenty of chemistry with their steady stream of quick patter.
“Danny Collins” is the directorial debut of Dan Fogelman, the writer behind “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” the television musical “Galavant” and the retirees-take-Sin-City comedy “Last Vegas.” Like his other work, this redemption narrative feels entirely good-natured and also manufactured to maximize likability. Every emotional moment has its comedic counterpoint, keeping the movie light, easy and utterly low-stakes. A film with so much drug use, nudity and profanity has rarely felt this tame. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Danny goes back to snorting coke and selling out shows.
Fogelman makes some rookie mistakes, the most egregious of which is using far too many montages. Montages can serve as important shorthand in a narrative or emotional arc, but nearly all of these could have been replaced with individual scenes to create a similar payoff.
If the movie distracts by trying too hard, it redeems itself in the final moments with a scene between Pacino and Cannavale that could have been melodramatic but turns out to be profoundly touching. “Danny Collins,” like its central character, has a good heart, and sometimes that’s enough.
R. At area theaters. Contains language, drug use and nudity. 106 minutes.