Back in 1975, a spryer Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik in Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” iconically chanted “Attica! Attica!”
Flash forward 30 years to the weathered pop star “Danny Collins.” Pacino’s chant has changed to something the golden girls in the front row of one of his concerts can relate to, “Sciatica! Sciatica!”
Nobody told him there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed for the folk singer once hailed as the next John Lennon. Collins had been coasting for decades on a string of insipid bubble gum hits like his trademark, “Hey Baby Doll,” whose lyrics make “because I come from the land of plenty” read like something from Robert Frost. Ahh, but it pays the bills.
Just what a toll on his art selling out has been he doesn’t realize until his longtime manager, played by Christopher Plummer (whose past clients include the Von Trapps), surprises him with a gift. Apparently, in 1971 Lennon himself penned a letter of encouragement to Collins, sending it in care of the music magazine in which Collins noted his high regard for ol’ Dr. Winston O’Boogie. The magazine editor had secretly kept it all these years, recognizing its value, and had only recently put it up for auction. Collins had been unaware the letter existed but is now inspired to return to his writing roots.
He forsakes the Beverly Hills mansion and the one-third-his-age girlfriend and moves to New Jersey, where he takes-up indefinite residence in an unassuming Hilton hotel managed by the ever-charming Annette Bening.
“Why Jersey?” everyone asks until that day his garish tour bus parks in front of a modest home, which turns out to be that of his estranged son (the always reliable Bobby Cannavale).
From there, the plot sticks to the formula, which is not to say it is anything but a joy, though I hate to admit Pacino — who can extort a laugh from a Banana Republic reference — is out of his element here. Watching him croon, I had a look on my face like that guy in “Scarface” when Hector comes at with the chainsaw. Other than that, he gets the excess, self-examination and reconciliation parts down.
From writer/director Dan Fogelman (“Cars,” “Tangled,” “The Guilt Trip”), the story of “Danny Collins” is inspired by real-life English folk singer Steve Tilston.
A predictable but pleasant tale promising that everyone, even purveyors of crappy pop tunes, can find fulfillment — a timeless message to all the fractured families, Toni Basils and Falcos out there.
Med-City Movie Guy’s rating: 4 Honks
Acting challenges or just greeno for Pacino?
As pop singer Danny Collins, Al Pacino counters the traditional good luck wish, “Break a leg,” with “Just tell me whose.” Hooah!
That comes as no surprise to film buffs for whom tough dialog, eminently quotable dialog, is the 74-year old actor’s hallmark. “Fredo, you broke my heart” (“The Godfather: Part II”); “I don’t know you so I don’t owe you” (“Carlito’s Way”); “Say hello to my leetle friend” (“Scarface”). If we didn’t know better we would think he was busting heads in his formative years instead of studying under Lee Strasberg.
But we do know better. We know that Pacino is the consummate actor. From Shakespeare to Dr. Kevorkian, he’s done it all … though sometimes he’s probably done it just for the paycheck, like these curious roles. Maybe. I’m just sayin’ that would explain a lot.
Bobby Deerfield (1977) Pacino starred as a race car driver in this sloooow drama from Sidney Pollack. It just doesn’t work on so many levels.
Cruising (1980) Tom Cruise (no pun intended) could probably pull this off, but moviegoers had a hard time buying Pacino as a frequenter of NYC leather bars. From writer/director William Friedkin (“The French Connection”).
Author! Author! (1982) His stage acumen didn’t help him here as Armenian playwright Ivan Travalian, and another thing … Pacino does not work well with kids.
Revolution (1985) Al Pacino’s roles define the ’70s. But not the 1770s as a fur trader conscripted to fight for a war whose outcome he supposes will change nothing. Pacino took a four-year hiatus (or went into hiding) after this one before reemerging in the hit “Sea of Love.”
Jack and Jill (2011) This Adam Sandler comedy is universally regarded as cinematic coprolite. Pacino slums it as a Dunkin’ Donuts pitchman rapping about their new “Dunkaccino.” I take back every bad thing I said about “Hey Baby Doll.”