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The Singing Detective (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew interviews; Theatrical trailers.

TRANSFORMING Dennis Potter’s hugely popular seven-hour mini-series, The Singing Detective, into a tight little movie was always going to be a difficult task, given the complexity of the tale, so it is little wonder to find that the film version, while certainly ambitious, fails to achieve the standards set by its illustrious predecessor.

The big screen interpretation, which is based upon Potter’s own re-imagined screenplay, is a somewhat messy affair which never really manages to connect with its audience, despite the best efforts of its main star, Robert Downey Jr, and co-star and producer, Mel Gibson (virtually unrecognisable).

The film centres around unsuccessful detective story novelist, Dan Dark (Downey Jr), as he lies in a hospital bed, suffering from a visibly painful, and particularly extreme case of psoriasis, while trying to come to terms with his inner demons.

Beset by career disappointments, a failing marriage and the memory of a tortured childhood, Dark must ponder whether his wife (Robin Wright Penn) is cheating on him with a strange figure from his childhood (Jeremy Northam) and plotting to steal the script he wrote and tucked away, and whether the doctors surrounding him are as mad as they seem, or merely a figment of his tormented psyche.

The only two people who seem to care are Katie Holmes’ sweet nurse, and the eccentric Dr Gibbon (Gibson), who do what they can to rescue him from his own sardonic ranting, as well as the memories of a difficult upbringing, and from slipping into a fantasy world where two gangsters (Adrien Brody and Jon Polito) pursue him through noir landscapes.

Director, Keith Gordon, who has a habit of bringing tough adaptations to the big screen (such as A Midnight Clear), has so much to work with, that he often seems to lose control of the many components of the story, making it difficult to keep up, and, worse, remain interested.

His film works best when focusing on the performances, and feels flabby and overbloated when tackling the more grandiose set pieces, such as the musical numbers which punctuate events, without ever enlivening them.

Hence, the sessions between Dark and Dr Gibbons rate among the movie’s finest, with both Gibson and Downey Jr building well on the chemistry they shared in Air America, and offering glimpses of what might have been.

Gordon, though, seems to want to have his cake and eat it, and peppers proceedings with so many off-shoots and fantasies, attempting to make the most of his talented cast, that viewers never really have time to connect emotionally with the core performers.

And while Downey Jr strides charismatically through every scene he occupies, and effortlessly reminds people of what a great actor he remains, his performance, alone, is not enough to save the movie from the unsatisfying failure that it eventually becomes.

Sadly, the best intentions and a lot of ambition simply aren’t enough to prevent this Singing Detective from hitting the wrong notes.

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