The Singing Detective (2003)
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Review Date: November 15, 2003
Director: Keith Gordon
Writer: Dennis Potter
Producers: Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson, Steven Haft
Robert Downey Jr. as Dan Dark
Mel Gibson as Dr. Gibbon
Robin Wright Penn as Nicole
A novelist is hospitalized with a nasty skin condition that covers his entire face and body, and allows him very little movement but plenty of hallucinatory fantasies. What follows is his day-to-day anguish in the hospital, interlaced with flashbacks from his childhood and imaginary characters from his book. Got all that? No? Well, how about you smoke a bowl and then watch the film? Got it now? Thought so. Musical numbers and a bald Mel Gibson ensue...
An all-out ambitious movie that combines a lead story about an author with a wicked skin problem who likes to bitch a lot, with an old-time film noir yarn featuring all of the stereotypical characters and dialogue that come with it ("What's your poison?" / "Where's the dame?"), as well as flashback insight into the author's own childhood. Some of the stuff overlaps, some of it means more than other stuff, and some of it is just plain goofy and entertaining (a handful of musical numbers are skewered throughout), but at the end of the day, I would rather sit through mountains of creative plot shenanigans as peppered through this movie than watch yet another drone sequel featuring big tits and massive explosions (well, okay...maybe not the big tits part) The point is that this film is original, it's unique, it's plastered with strange characters acting among a number of story-lines, all of which actually make some sense in the end. The film reminded me a little of MULHOLLAND DRIVE because its characters were hard to pin down. Downey, for example, plays two completely different characters here, and does so with gumption. For the first half of the film, his entire face is covered in boils, dried skin and puss (great make-up!), but he acts through it all. I can't say that I'm a big fan of the man off-screen, but kudos for pulling himself together long enough to come up with yet another memorable performance(s). The rest of the cast is also packed with "names" including a great move on Mel Gibson's part, playing a balding, fat-glassed shrink, who obviously looks very different then Gibby usually does, but even more impressively, acts, sounds and moves differently as well (his body language is key to the part) Congrats, Mel!

Others that come and go through the film include the lovelier than lovely Katie Holmes, not showcasing any tit-shots this time around (just watched THE GIFT again last night...nice!), but acting ever so adorable and participating in a scene in which she has to "raise a man's penis" (no joke) Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody also shows up, alongside the great Jon Polito, as well as Jeremy Northam, Carla Gugino, the underrated Saul Rubinek, Alfre Woodard and an actress who needs to go on an anti-diet: a boney Robin Wright Penn. Many of the actors get their own scenes in which to shine and all carry their respective torches admirably. That said, it's the film's structure and style that pulled me into its corner early on, as a dramatic scene in a hospital suddenly turned into a musical number to the tune of "At the Hop". As charming was the ode to "Mr. Sandman" later on, as well as several other hummable ditties throughout, all of which made sense within the context of the story (the lead character feels like he's losing his mind) and were just plain fun! The film did sag a little during its mid-section, as some of the novelty started to wear off, specifically with Downey's character endlessly bitching ("If I say fuck you, does that mean yes?"-great line though), but the ending brought it all back together and even went as far as to connect it all psychologically. If all that doesn't appeal to you, how about the fact that you get to see Wright Penn getting doggied at some point? Not bad, eh? Seriously though, if unoriginality is one of your biggest complaints about Hollywood flicks today, don't wait another minute to see this film, since it's likely to get left out in the cold once the "holiday" movies start hitting the cineplexes. I enjoyed it overall, thought it ran a little long and was a tad "arty" at times, but loved its narrative approach, its style, its hip musical inserts, its many funny quirks and one-liners, its characters and most of all...its ballsy approach to the material.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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