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SINGING DETECTIVE, THE (director: Keith Gordon; screenwriter: from the TV series by Dennis Potter/Mr. Potter; cinematographer: Tom Richmond; editor: Jeff Wishengrad; music: Ken Weiss; cast: Robert Downey Jr. (Dan Dark), Mel Gibson (Dr. Gibbon), Carla Gugino (Betty Dark-Mother/Hooker), Katie Holmes (Nurse Mills), Jeremy Northam (Mark Binney), Adrien Brody (First Hood), Jon Polito (Second Hood), Saul Rubinek (Skin Specialist), Robin Wright Penn (Nicola/Nina/Blonde), Alfre Woodard (Chief of Staff); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bruce Davey/Mel Gibson/Steven Haft; Paramount Classics; 2003)
“Inventive mess, filled with pock marks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Former actor turned director Keith Gordon (“Mother Night”/”A Midnight Clear”/”Waking the Dead”) helms a highly stylized coarse American reworking (an inventive mess, filled with pock marks) of Dennis Potter’s brilliant and popular 6½-hour 1986 BBC miniseries The Singing Detective. The London-based Mr. Potter supplied the script before his death in 1994, which is the film’s main problem–it lacked feeling like a finished product. It’s a blend of film noir, 1950s pop music, and comical/psychological melodrama that never meshes or hits the right note, though it has its interesting moments of being not lucid. The sketchy work is drained of emotion, as it chronicles the protagonist’s boyhood shocks, hospital traumas, and the plot of his novel in its unique fashion.

Pulp fiction author Dan Dark (Downey Jr.) is hospitalized by a severe skin disease and while recovering suffers from hallucinations and paranoia about his first novel, The Singing Detective, the investigation of murdered Los Angeles prostitutes. The heavily medicated bedridden patient imagines himself as the 1950s gumshoe who amateurishly croons doo-wop tunes, while he also imagines other characters lip-synching popular pop tunes from Patti Page’s How Much Is That Doggie In The Window? to Danny and the Juniors’ At The Hop. Dark’s ex-wife, Nicola (Robin Wright Penn), visits him at the hospital and puts up with his lunatic ravings, and is depicted in the novel as a blonde femme fatale who is stealing hubby’s screenplay based on his novel and having an affair with one of the blokes from the novel. Dark’s loopy psychotherapist Dr. Gibbon, played by an almost unrecognizable Mel Gibson (adorned with a bald head and coke-bottle glasses), provides the goofy Freudian therapy that connects Dark’s childhood events with his current deteriorating mental condition and rotten disposition. Through dreams and visions Dark now recalls his traumatic childhood experiences that left him emotionally crippled. He imagines his mother (Carla Gugino) and his father’s smarmy partner, Mark Binney (Jeremy Northam), having an affair–a reason for his hatred of women and distrust for people. In the film’s funniest line, Dark says “I don’t want to be a dog, I just want to shit on the sidewalk.” From the real world pretty and kindly Nurse Mills (Katie Holmes) dutifully greases the author’s body daily and becomes his fantasy romantic interest he masturbates to as they go into a Mr. Sandman number, while a cartoonish pair of hoods (Adrian Brody & Jon Polito) appear in his imaginary world and do all kinds of mischief while shamelessly mugging for the camera as if they were in a home movie.

I never connected with this experimental parody. It seemed like a clueless movie that offered many clues about what it was about but never solved what it was after–leaving mostly a bitter aftertaste despite a few impressive original raw moments, as it slides out of control working its way to an unconvincing happy ending.

REVIEWED ON 12/17/2004 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”