In a film adaptation of Dennis Potter's famous TV series, a hospitalized novelist reworks his first book and becomes feverishly confused with his novel's protaganist, a detective investigating a murder in 1950s L.A.
Based on Dennis Potter's award-winning television series, The Singing Detective chronicles the life and delusions of Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) during his time in hospital with a severe bout of psoriasis. Dark was a moderately successful writer of detective fiction before his illness and his deteriorating mental state leads him to take fantasy trips into his stories, and into his paranoia fuelled visions of his wife's life, in an effort to avoid his helpless present and traumatic past.
Dark regularly imagines himself to be the eponymous 'Singing Detective' and attempts to solve a murder he encounters while in this fantasy world, the true significance of which is not discovered until some unusual therapy sessions with Mel Gibson's Dr Gibbon. As the detective, Dark sings in a rock and roll band and this musical influence begins to invade the rest of his life, with Dark himself and the supporting cast regularly breaking into lip-synching numbers which, with the exception of the doctor's ensemble and the Downey/Gibson duet, pass without much notice.
As the human salami, Downey Jr. manages to make the paranoid and aggressive Dark strangely appealing, switching effortlessly between the angry and vulnerable Dark, who is unable to function without help, and the cool and sophisticated Dark of the detective stories. Mel Gibson dons his bald wig with relish to play the unconventional therapist while Katie Holmes is a suitably sweet foil for the unpleasant aspects of Dark. However, despite the good quality cast, the most attention grabbing moments of the film are provided by the makeup and concept of 'greasing'.
The film flicks around at breakneck speed from Dark's days in the hospital to the film noir world of his detective stories, from his childhood memories to his paranoid fantasies. In fact, so much is packed in that it is hard to follow all the action or even care too much about what is going on.
The screenplay was written by Dennis Potter himself and he clearly wanted to remain true to the ideals of the series but instead created far too many jumbled aspects to work fluidly in a two hour film. Things get even more complicated when two hoods (watch out for Adrien Brody in a rare comic turn) escape from the detective story and track Dark down to the hospital. Despite some promising twists and turns, the film feels flat and outdated with an oddly rushed ending. All in all, the Singing Detective would be an entertaining film for fans of Robert Downey Jr. but those with fond memories of the television series will be disappointed.
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