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'Danny Collins' finds Al Pacino in soul-searching artist mode

'Danny Collins,' Dan Fogelman's directing debut, a mostly by-the-numbers redemption story

"Kind of based on a true story a little bit." As on-screen titles playfully claim, the eager-to-please directing debut of screenwriter Dan Fogelman was sparked by an intriguing news item: A letter from John Lennon reached a fledgling folk singer decades after the former Beatle wrote it.

A similar event befalls the title character in "Danny Collins," and Lennon's words encouraging him to stay true to himself shake him to the core. Kind of, a little bit.

Ostensibly exploring a monumental what-if in a musician's life — a late-career reckoning that aims to make up for lost time — the movie is itself a missed opportunity, especially given that it stars Al Pacino.

Collins gave up songwriting long ago but continues to rake in gazillions, regurgitating hooky hits with the hammiest of stage shtick. In the film's strongest moments, he faces the empty excess of his life, from his two-timing fiancée to his ridiculous image on a Sunset Strip billboard. The sense of regret and awakening is keen, and Pacino clearly is up for a soul-searching portrayal.

But Fogelman ("Crazy, Stupid, Love.") instead fashions a by-the-numbers redemption story whose grasp of the music biz is superficial at best. Lennon's solo tunes punctuate the comic drama, but applause and laugh tracks might have been a closer fit. The pushily charming (or charmingly pushy) Collins decamps to suburban New Jersey to reconnect with his inner artist and look up the son he never met, and everyone he encounters exists solely to prove his goodness.

Though they all share lovely moments with Pacino, fine actors — Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Plummer — are reduced to gently scolding cheerleaders. Worse, Fogelman shamelessly uses a child's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and another character's dire illness to fast-track his protagonist's rehabilitation. Imagine.

"Danny Collins."

Rated R for language, drug use, nudity.

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles; AMC Century City 15.

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