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The Singing Detective

Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson; Katie Holmes, Robin Wright Penn
Screenplay by Dennis Potter based on his BBC miniseries
Directed by Keith Gordon

IN SHORT: About as big a disaster as you can get. [Rated R for strong sexual content, language and some violence. 109 minutes]

Dennis Potter wrote this screenplay based on his Brit television miniseries, which means that Dennis Potter is the one man who knows exactly what everything is supposed to mean. Let us put it a better way: Dennis Potter is the only man who knows exactly what everything means. Whatever it is to the author, to the viewer (in this case yours truly and the rest of the muttering critics sitting in a New York screening room) The Singing Detective is a painful, meandering and senseless mess. It is also a musical film, but only in the sense that characters lip synch with songs of the time period, the 1950s, none of which have any apparent thematic connection to the story.

Central to the story is writer Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) who, in the present day, is hospitalized in an immobile state due to some kind of extremely painful skin disease called psoriatic arthropathy. Creepy looking sores and scales cover his body head to toe. He spends months in the hospital recovering, which includes unwanted therapy sessions from Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson), surprising twists in therapy applied by a sympathetic nurse Mills (Katie Holmes) and occasional visits from his ex-wife Nicole (Robin Wright Penn). Since he spends most of his time stuck in the sack, we're guessing here, we get to share the mental recreation of scenes from his childhood, traumatic ones involving sex and his mother (Carla Gugino). The only novel Dan professes to like, "The Singing Detective," he likes because he wrote it. He doesn't like the three others that came from his pen -- we mention them solely to prove that we paid attention far beyond the point where we should have ceased to care.

Perhaps it is because Downey's character is an unlikable git from his first appearance on out. Refusing anti-depressants and tranquilizers to help alleviate his mental state, he seems to be a man relishing his pain. All the events in his life have been deliberately twisted into characters in his books but the film, which jumps from present time to flashback to recreations of equivalent scenes from the "novel" does nothing to make a viewer care much about the character as it rolls along. What may have made perfect sense in a six episode time frame suffers from compression. It was a numbing waste of our time and shouldn't be one of yours.

We didn't think we'd sit for anything more painful than Gigli but, short of that film's numbing use of four letter words (which are mercifully absent here) we did.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Singing Detective, he would have paid . . .


If you wish, seek out the television program instead. It is, time-wise, three movies for the (rental) price of one.

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