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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.41%
Average: 3.92%
Pretty Bad: 13.73%
Total Crap: 21.57%

4 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Singing Detective, The (2003)
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by Tony Hansen

"Downey Jr. gets high AND gets a hand job from Katie Holmes?"
4 stars

Oh, Robert Downey Jr. is living the good life. Spending all day with his watery eyes rolled back into his head, more wasted than a 1960s jazz musician, Mr. Downey Jr. is living life on his own terms. And we’re not talking about some minor drugs, some “gateway” wussy drugs, we’re talking about heroin and crack – the good stuff. This is the type of stuff that people would kill their grandmothers to get. But Mr. Downey Jr. doesn’t have to kill his grandmother (yet), he gets his smack from the millions of dollars he makes from an inexplicably active acting career. Really, between boozing and shooting up and rehab and prison time where does our druggy thespian laureate find the time to remain one of the most consistently busy actors of his generation? Robert, you’re a greater man than I. Will you play a wasted martyr icon in MY Elton John video?

Unfortunately for my temptation to hate Robert Downey Jr. because I feel so sorry for Robert Downey Jr., Mr. Downey Jr. doesn’t only get jobs because of the “sorry for/pathetic” factor. He gets jobs because he doesn’t suck. Whatever the problems he’s having in his personal life, he always delivers the goods. Such is the case with his performance in The Singing Detective, a role in which someone will invariably point out the dramatic irony between Downey’s own addiction to drugs and his character’s dependence and repulsion to chemical treatment.

This treatment is the central gear upon which The Singing Detective, a film based on a miniseries by the same name, spins its delightfully hallucinatory issues of escapism and memory. Robert Downey Jr. is Dan Dark, a pulp detective novelist who is wasting away in a hospital, his body racked with the pain and embarrassment of psoriasis. Covered in scabs and unable to move without great anguish, Dark fills his mind, the only even semi-functional part of his body, with images of a fantastical noir world of fiction, where he is the detective and where he has the opportunity to have the strength of cool. This world, however, is interrupted periodically by early and dark memories of his family and its growing dysfunctional dynamic. These storylines all collide and intersect with one another throughout the film and create a sense of narrative dystopia, which further emphasizes Dark’s creative “insanity.”

The Singing Detective is capably if not cleverly directed by Keith Gordon, who I’m sure all of us recall as the pasty face son of Thornton Melon in Back to School. Boy, was that guy pasty faced. Watching his performance in Back to School was like watching a ghost mingle among the living. It was like a scene from Pleasantville – everyone has had sex or masturbated but Gordon. Thankfully, all of you who are fans of Gordon, the director, and some of his other films, A Midnight Clear and Waking the Dead, or if you’re just a fan of Back to School, you’ll be happy to know that from his appearance at Sundance it would seem that Gordon has been laid and he’s now joined the land of the living. Welcome home, Keith Gordon.

The film was written and ultimately creatively driven by Dennis Potter, who based much of the story on personal experiences as someone who also was debilitated by psoriasis. Potter had written the screenplay years earlier and this film version was produced after his death. It’s obvious that Potter had a clear affection for the period in which he was writing and the style in which this period is generally depicted in noir circles (are there such things as noir circles?) It’s also clear that Potter had a fondness for the music of the 1940s, and its presence drenches the detective storyline with a smooth cool. In his presentation of the music, Potter emphasizes its power and its ability to encapsulate a memory. Song is the backbone of The Singing Detective.

It’s inevitable that The Singing Detective will be compared to the miniseries. It’s also inevitable that many will cry like babies that the film is not as good as the television version. They’re right, of course. It’s not as good. There’s nothing in the film that isn’t done in the miniseries and there’s nothing in the film that isn’t done better in the miniseries. But the film, nevertheless, succeeds. It lack the scope but it succeeds. It creates a playful environment in which one is entertained in spite of and because of its dark subject matter. Certainly, it’s more overtly tongue-in-cheek then the original. There’s stunt casting (a famous star plays a psychotherapist who attempts to help Dark, but I’ll never tell who the actor is. (Mel Gibson)) and the noir parody of the detective storyline is distinctly less subtle.

These things don’t necessarily make the film better but they do make it fun.

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originally posted: 08/08/03 10:43:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/28/11 millersxing Freddy Krueger's back and he's got a new nightmare! 1 stars
8/04/06 Agent Sands Good cast, nice soundtrack. 'S about it. Not very tightly done. 3 stars
5/08/04 tatum Really treats the audience like drones, "you won't get this, so just shut up" 1 stars
5/03/04 carlos eduardo muñoz buena 5 stars
4/14/04 paul too good to put in words 5 stars
12/18/03 maria gonzalez I love it. Robert Downey is a great actor 5 stars
12/07/03 Lyric Robert Downey Jr is the MAN!!!!!! 5 stars
11/30/03 jmsynth Only 12 people in cinema. When I left after 30 mins, 3 remained. Worst Film Ever! 1 stars
11/26/03 costars Fun, Funny, Beautiful, Imaginative & Fascinating 5 stars
11/22/03 john splendid, captivating, Downey and Penn lovely etc. 5 stars
11/18/03 he a great film 5 stars
11/15/03 Karol Sucks is too good a word for this crap!! 1 stars
11/11/03 Cameron Slick You have to see it to believe it, and even that isn’t a guarantee. 3 stars
11/09/03 T Leonard White Extraordinary performance by Downey 5 stars
10/28/03 Stephanie The absolute WORST movie I have ever seen in my entire life. 1 stars
10/13/03 Patty K Challenging, weird, and great. Downey is amazing. 5 stars
10/10/03 fay ubertin loved this movie dementia without reserve. Robert Downey Jr. is a comic genius 4 stars
9/10/03 Tory Great acting 5 stars
6/23/03 Smiley Hit or Miss. It was a hit with me. Manifold sub plots and themes to challenge the viewer. 5 stars
6/19/03 Kino My favorite film from Sundance 2003 5 stars
6/06/03 Ed Funny, odd, moving, terrific 5 stars
5/22/03 jason smyth Awesome. thankfully not the usual hollywood crap 5 stars
2/20/03 Cray Z A Fever Dream! 5 stars
2/12/03 SusanS Fascinating and original. Slow spots. 4 stars
2/04/03 ahmad goooog 5 stars
1/25/03 Buddha The hell he is. What laborious crap. 2 stars
1/25/03 Gino Lambretta No, no, no, this reviewer is incorrect 4 stars
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  24-Oct-2003 (R)
  DVD: 23-Mar-2004


  08-Jul-2004 (M)

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