Film review: Singing Detective, The

Published: Friday, Nov. 21 2003 7:47 a.m. MST

Robert Downey Jr. plays Dan Dark in "The Singing Detective."

Lorey Sebastian, Associated Press

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The songs that are being lip-synched in "The Singing Detective" are in tune and on key, but very little else is in this nearly unwatchable musical-fantasy, based on the 1986 BBC television miniseries.

Even Robert Downey Jr. seems a little out of step here. And when you can say that about an actor as watchable as he can be, you know the film has serious problems.

There are also jarring tonal shifts. While much of the film is surprisingly dramatic, even a tad on the melodramatic side, it briefly flirts with being a comedy, at the most inappropriate times.

Consequently, "The Singing Detective" is bound to disappoint most audiences, especially those who are fans of author Dennis Potter, including this semi-autobiographical work about an embittered writer, Dan Dark (Downey), who is suffering from a painful skin disease that causes him to have hallucinatory delusions.

To escape from the real world, Dan is starting to daydream — if that's the right term — by putting himself in his own fictional work, in the role of a tough-talking private eye who also moonlights as a singer.

His doctors have almost given up on treating him, thanks to his abusive behavior. So the last resort is turning to a psychotherapist (Mel Gibson, under heavy makeup), who tries to get Dan to talk more about his relationships with his mother (Carla Gugino) and estranged wife (Robin Wright Penn).

Director Keith Gordon has heavily reworked Potter's original teleplay. And while he has a lot of things to say here, he makes a real mistake by trying to say a little too much. Some of his ideas are not good, and there's also a real ugliness and nastiness to some of this material that's pretty off-putting.

Downey does his best to make us like a character who's pretty much a self-involved jerk. But, ultimately, we really don't care whether his character is cured.

Also, the "name" supporting cast is pretty inconsistent. Gibson's performance is far too cartoonish (with his bald-head facial appliance, he looks like Elmer Fudd), and Wright Penn doesn't have nearly enough to do.

"The Singing Detective" is rated R for violence (gunplay, fisticuffs, slapstick and violence against women), occasional use of strong sexual profanity and crude sexual talk, simulated sex, brief gore and brief drug content (use of pharmaceuticals). Running time: 109 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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