Sorry to have to say this, but late-career Al Pacino is sort of cheesy and mildly creepy. I guess I'd pinpoint the evolution as beginning two decades ago with his Oscar-winning role in "Scent of a Woman," which he seemed to take as a mandate to overact forthwith. Sure, he's made some decent flicks in the meantime -- "Heat," "Donnie Brasco," "The Insider" -- but whatever it was that placed him among the best of his generation has diminished in intensity over the years. Ironically, it's by bringing all of that to the table that Pacino absolutely nails his title role in the otherwise formulaic "Danny Collins," offering up his best performance in quite some time as an aging music icon hoping to recapture his passion and make his third act matter.
Collins' odyssey is set into motion upon receiving a fan letter from John Lennon 40 years late, inspiring the weary entertainer to shelve his extravagant lifestyle, ditch his trophy fiancée, and check into a New Jersey Hilton for a bit of redemption. He's hoping to write a new song for the first time in decades, but his real dream is to connect with his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale). You can write the rest: rejections, relapses, setbacks, and joys, while still finding time to woo the adorably uninterested hotel manager (Annette Bening).
Unfortunately, first-time filmmaker Dan Fogelman (he also wrote the script for "Crazy, Stupid, Love") doesn't miss an opportunity for emotionally manipulative plot contrivance, like learning disabilities and terminal illness, but his impeccable casting hides a multitude of sins. Pacino is wonderful, underplaying even the quietest moments and conveying Collins' entrenched decency, especially in his scenes with the note-perfect Cannavale. And Pacino enjoys surprisingly excellent chemistry with Bening, who is as clever and charming as she's ever been. I haven't even mentioned ringers like Jennifer Garner and Christopher Plummer, saddled with dialogue no 85-year-old should have to utter but still sparkling like a star.