The Singing Detective movie poster
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The Singing Detective movie poster

The Singing Detective Movie Review

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Robert Downey, Jr. heads a great cast that includes Robin Wright Penn, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody and Mel Gibson, but little can be said about The Singing Detective, a remake of the 1986 TV miniseries. Both are written by Dennis Potter.

The Singing Detective examines the life of trash mystery author Dan Dark, who has been bedridden for three months with an illness that has kept him immobile and ugly. Even worse, his mind has begun to break down; he has injected himself into the lead character of one of his old novels (guess which one). The movie jumps in between his experiences in the hospital and the mystery that is going on in his head, which seems to be linked much more to his true childhood than he originally thought. Unfortunately, his battle is a waste of time as the movie is a waste of time.

The Singing Detective is occasionally interesting or funny. Downey, Jr., while playing the illness-stricken version of his character, is entertaining enough. Gibson, who plays a quirky, balding psychologist, is fun. A scene where Katie Holmes is lathering Downey's ravaged body is hilarious. Other than that, the movie is a wreck.

Much of the blame can be attributed to director Keith Gordon, who haphazardly assembled this movie without what appears to be the slightest clue as to how to execute such a film. Due to the title and plot, I was expecting a movie about a very sick man who mixes reality and imagination together - seamlessly - and sings along the way. Instead, The Singing Detective is about a very sick man who is either in reality or his imagination, and mouths random songs. Basically, I was expecting a movie with the same approach that Rob Marshall took to Chicago, a musical that flashes between a hospital and a 1950's detective story within the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, that is not that case. The movie is hardly a musical (the movement of the actors' mouths hardly match up with the random songs that play in the background), and the transitions are terrible. Much of the time is spent in the hospital, and too little time is spent in the detective story.

It is hard to understand why writer Dennis Potter would remake his own story, this time slimmed down to a two-hour feature. Well, money is the obvious answer. It is also hard to understand how a director could mess up a potentially interesting story to this extent. Have the actors actually sing! Blend reality and the imaginary! More emphasis on the detective setting! Be somewhat worthwhile!

The Singing Detective is a mighty disappointment, especially considering the big names involved. Little could be done to improve this picture, other than going to the extreme of hiring another director.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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