The Singing Detective (2003)


          Arguably Dennis Potter was one of the most innovative screenwriters of
  the late 20th Century. Two of his miniseries, originally produced for British
  television,
"Pennies From Heaven" (1978) and especially "The Singing
    Detective"
(1986), are among the very best that medium has produced.
  His success before the advent of DVDs, of course, was far greater in his native
  England than in the United States. In America, the programs only reached a
  selected audience as they aired on PBS and later cable. The critical acclaim
  afforded these groundbreaking shows, though, inevitably brought Hollywood
  calling. In 1981, Herbert Ross directed an Americanized
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
  starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. Although championed by some
  reviewers, the movie proved to highbrow for audiences expecting another
   THE JERK and it became a box-office failure. Potter himself was said to be
  unhappy with the script and before his death he wrote his own movie adaptation
  of
THE SINGING DETECTIVE. His attempt to condense the six-hour original
  into a two-hour movie is analogous to the now ubiquitous Broadway adaptations
  of feature films: Something vital is lost.

          The Americanized version of
THE SINGING DETECTIVE also has the
  problem of competing with the DVD of the original, which featured a towering
  central performance by Michael Gambon as a mystery writer afflicted with acute
  psoriasis who imagines himself the hero of his own novel. In the British version
  the setting was the 1940s and the lead was called Philip E. Marlowe thus
  allowing Potter to pay homage to the films noir or that decade. Similarly, the
  interpolated songs that were lip-synced (a device also employed in
  
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN) were from that era. The feature film version, for
  some inexplicable reason, moves the time line up to the 1950s and uses
  novelty songs like "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" for effect.

          The central character remains an author suffering with a skin condition,
  but he now carries the moniker Dan Dark. Robert Downey Jr. gamely steps
  into the Gambon role and the actor once again demonstrates just how
  strong and powerful an actor he is. Despite his well-documented off-screen
  troubles, Downey has always been one of contemporary cinemas most
  accomplished actors and his disciplined performance goes a long way in
  making this screen version a success.

          Director Keith Gordon handles the dramatic action well, but stumbles
   a bit in staging me of the musical fantasies (particularly one featuring Katie
  Homes lip syncing "Mr. Sandman"). The song choices, which undoubtedly were
  Potter's, also don't provide the ironic commentary that those in the original do.
  Still, Gordon elicits terrific work from his cast, particularly Carla Gugino as
  Dark's mother, Mel Gibson in the supporting role of a psychiatrist, Robin Wright
  Penn as Dark's wife and Jeremy Northam in multiple roles.

          There really wasn't any pressing need to remake
THE SINGING DETECTIVE,
  but this version at least gives audiences a chance to see once again just
  how good an actor Robert Downey Jr. can be given the right material.



                
Rating:                        B
                
Running time:              109 mins.
                
MPAA rating:               R for strong sexual content, language
                                                          and some violence


                                      Viewed at Cinema Village
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.