The Singing Detective
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Trapped in his own body because of a crippling skin disease, mystery writer Dan Dark (Downey) sinks into one of his characters and begins to lose himself in fantasies contrasting what he would like to have been against his own tragic childhood and paranoia. Only when he starts seeing an unconventional shrink (Mel Gibson) does he begin to improve and see some hope.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
As offbeat as a movie can get, the main thing that THE SINGING DETECTIVE has going for it is yet another “for the books” performance by Robert Downey Jr. Despite his character being bedridden because of a degenerative skin condition that leaves him covered in boils and burning with pain, Downey plays the bitter patient to a tee, spitting venom at doctors, nurses, his wife, himself and everyone in between. The versatile actor can go berserk as well as anyone and only calms down when confronted by the weird psychiatrist. The psychiatrist paints Mel Gibson in a whole new light, as a balding, aging intellectual rather than as a hero fighting and slashing his way through hordes of enemies. It’s a nice change for him that lets us see that behind Gibson’s superstar image is a genuinely fine actor. A smaller role in the flick is played by Adrian Brody and even though his screen time is pretty limited, he makes the most of it as a two-bit hood stuck in one of Dark’s fantasies.
There wouldn’t be any surprises though if many tune out during the many flashback and fantasy sequences. While some of them are very well placed, a few sort of just lingered there. I have to admit a couple of them just left me staring at Carla Gugino, who stars as Dan Dark’s mother and spends most of her scenes getting laid. Unfortunately, you also have to sit through a sequence of Robin Wright-Penn getting laid. I wonder whatever happened to her... she used to actually be attractive a few years back, then she went on the Hollywood Anorexia diet or something and just became scary. She does play her role well though, being as detestable as Downey’s delusions tell him she is. Overall, THE SINGING DETECTIVE is an interesting story to watch featuring some great performances. Story-wise, it didn't do it for me, but I know the book by Dennis Potter was quite popular and probably has a following of its own. Average in this reviewer's eyes, but worth a look nonetheless.
There's only one commentary track by director Keith Gordon who keeps the information coming at a very good pace and touches on a lot of different aspects of the movie. Never boring and without any long lulls, it's a better than average track.
This is a film that doesn't really have broad appeal, but may end up getting its own little following. It features some great performances throughout and is really nice to look at aesthetically. The story and its film representation are really a niche thing, but it's worth taking a rental chance on it.