In a rather strong week of releases, the masochist in DVD Letterbox emerged. Do I deliver my annual “What on earth is Al Pacino thinking?” tirade or the annual “What the hell has happened to Hugh Grant?” lament.
I made the mistake of putting Grant’s latest feature, The Rewrite (M, Roadshow, 107 min, $29.95), into my DVD player. It reunites Grant with Marc Lawrence, the writer-director of Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics and Did You Hear About the Morgans?, and feels like their last hurrah.
Grant plays a spoilt, Oscar-winning screenwriter, Keith Michaels, now lost in LA, who in desperation takes a job teaching screenwriting at a far-flung, cliquey university. He’s a bumbling scoundrel who chooses his students based on the allure of their Facebook photos. He soon puts the campus hierarchy (including Alison Janney and JK Simmons) offside, until Marisa Tomei’s entrance as an older student, Holly, and their inevitable attraction turns the bad guy around.
The Rewrite is a minor entertainment enlivened by easy performances from a seasoned cast (and terrific young Aussie Bella Heathcote). The dialogue begins quite sharply, with Grant’s trademark daffiness central to amusing encounters at an airport and a wine and cheese night. But The Rewrite can’t maintain the bite as it transforms into a sweet and sound tale of Keith’s redemption.
Admittedly, it is a much better film for Grant’s presence — and it helps that I adore Tomei — although one can’t help but feel his twinkle-eyed stammer schtick is, at age 55, coming to the end of its natural life. Although we’ve said that for a decade.
Pacino has more credits in the bank than Grant, or indeed almost any actor, although he’s nearly spent them. On the surface, Danny Collins (M, Roadshow, 102 min, $29.95) looked like another dud, or at least indulgence. He stars as an ageing singer and, unlike Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash, it wasn’t released in cinemas despite its broader cast and the pedigree of its debut director, Dan Fogelman, whose screenplay credits include Cars, Tangled and Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Danny Collins isn’t a dud if you can overlook its cynicism as a piece pitched squarely at melancholy baby boomers.
Pacino plays the title character, a mix of Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart, slowly closing his life, disillusioned by showbiz while still indulging in its excesses. Then his manager unearths a letter to Danny written 40 years ago by John Lennon as a caution and encouragement (it is based on a true story about British folk singer Steve Tilston).
It sparks Danny’s quest for redemption and a search for his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale). Pacino is reserved, his support cast, including Christopher Plummer and Annette Bening, is good with limited material, and the Lennon-heavy soundtrack is a bonus. So I’ll raincheck the tirade and the lament.