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The Singing Detective (2003)


Average Rating: 5.1/10
Reviews Counted: 106
Fresh: 41
Rotten: 65

Critics Consensus: Delightful performance from Robert Downey Jr. can't save The Singing Detective's transition from TV to the big screen.

Average Rating: 4.8/10
Reviews Counted: 29
Fresh: 8
Rotten: 21

Critics Consensus: Delightful performance from Robert Downey Jr. can't save The Singing Detective's transition from TV to the big screen.


Average Rating: 2.9/5
User Ratings: 7,569


Movie Info

From director Keith Gordon (Mother Night, A Midnight Clear) comes this American feature adaptation of the 1986 BBC miniseries, The Singing Detective. Robert Downey Jr. returns to the big-screen for the first time since 2000's Wonder Boys as Dan Dark, a novelist who is hospitalized with a severe case of psoriasis. As he lays in bed, Dark hallucinates that he is actually a World War II-era private dick embroiled in an oddball web of mystery, intrigue, and musical numbers. Written by the late … More

R (for strong sexual content, language and some violence)
Drama , Musical & Performing Arts , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
Dennis Potter
In Theaters:
Mar 23, 2004
Box Office:
Paramount Classics - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for The Singing Detective

All Critics (115) | Top Critics (31) | Fresh (41) | Rotten (65) | DVD (20)

... it is just a little bit too much of a disjointed mess.

Full Review… | November 17, 2003
Ebert & Roeper
Top Critic

When I saw it at Sundance, my attention was divided because I was trying to process the meaning of the jagged structure. Seeing it again a week ago, knowing what to expect, I found it a more moving experience.

Full Review… | November 14, 2003
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

The Singing Detective has to settle for a hung jury.

Full Review… | November 14, 2003
Detroit Free Press
Top Critic

It stands completely on Downey's tragi-comic performance, although the rest of the cast -- particularly Penn and Gibson -- do good work as well.

November 13, 2003
Detroit News
Top Critic

Although the miniseries spent time developing the strands of the interwoven stories, the movie flits from idea to idea and plays like a chaotic, failed experiment.

November 13, 2003
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

If the movie doesn't really work, it's because it's a hard piece to bring off, an extremely high mark to hit. Still, enough magic is left, especially in Downey's performance, to shock and beguile us.

Full Review… | November 13, 2003
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

The film's colorful song-and-dance set pieces rely on lip-synced '50s songs that are the weakest link in a bumbling but gregarious movie.

Full Review… | May 9, 2009

Inventive mess, filled with pock marks.

Full Review… | December 16, 2004
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

The first two thirds are a lot of fun and a showcase for Robert Downey Jr.'s immense talents.

Full Review… | August 22, 2004
Apollo Guide

The concept is clever, but the film's parts don't fit well and the main character is one of the least likable you'll find.

April 9, 2004

The Singing Detective is like a dream that you are still a little confused by when you wake up. It's not for everyone, but it's a fun ride if you dive in face first.

Full Review… | April 7, 2004
IGN Movies

Worth seeing on the basis of its cast alone, although the characters being played are often so impressionistic, even the superstar lineup ends up being a bit distracting.

Full Review… | February 2, 2004
Boston Herald

Potter's gaze into the man's dark sexual and familial secrets isn't about one man's oppression, but about his self-imposed melodrama.

Full Review… | January 17, 2004
Slant Magazine

A flawed yet mesmerizing adaptation of the 1986 BBC mini-series.

Full Review… | January 15, 2004

Zany comic relief moments hold th film together when you might otherwise be, well, itching to flee the theater.

December 31, 2003
Long Island Press

Perpetually feels as if it were a good idea that was never fully thought through.

Full Review… | December 7, 2003
Austin Chronicle

Viewed purely as its own thing, The Singing Detective is a wonder to look at, centered by a compelling Downey performance

Full Review… | November 28, 2003
New Times

Catch it to see a major performance by a magnetic actor, but go in with patience and with the realization that the film is something of an interesting failure.

Full Review… | November 28, 2003
Sacramento Bee

The outstanding ensemble cast goes a long way toward redeeming things.

November 28, 2003
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The film uneasily skims the surface like a stone over water, hitting highlights at random.

Full Review… | November 26, 2003
Sacramento News & Review

[Downey's] portrayal is engaging, witty and affecting -- and so is the film.

November 26, 2003
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Whether [Potter] condensed his own story so stupidly or others ruined it for him, the results are sadly the same.

Full Review… | November 26, 2003
Charlotte Observer

The Singing Detective is one of those films that is high in concept, but poor on delivery.

Full Review… | November 25, 2003
Film Threat

The songs that are being lip-synched in The Singing Detective are in tune and on key, but very little else is in this nearly unwatchable musical-fantasy, based on the 1986 BBC television miniseries.

Full Review… | November 21, 2003
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

A real piece of crap by any objective means of judgment.

Full Review… | November 21, 2003
Orlando Weekly

Downey spits nails as the pain-ridden Dark, and masters the Raymond Chandler-esque dialogue and mannerisms of Dark's pulp creation.

Full Review… | November 21, 2003
Salt Lake Tribune

Audience Reviews for The Singing Detective


The original TV series The Singing Detective was a cutting edge mini-series that took British TV by storm and by surprise. Dennis Potter's play, and then TV series really did change the way people looked at TV programs around the globe, it is that significant. I balked at a film version and so haven't wanted to watch it until now. For what it's worth, I think they did as good a job as they could. It's better than Romance and Cigarettes anyway. Robert Downey Jr's performance is pretty damn good and the editing reminded me that it was a Potter play. For the best part they got it right, I just wasn't and never could be as good as the original.

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer


A great performance by Robert Downey Jr., an early Katie Holmes role and a small part played by a heavily made-up Mel Gibson do their best, but they don't save this film from its sheer weirdness. Four words: lip-synched ensemble musical numbers.

When it cut to action from the novel our hero (Downey Jr.) has written, I really liked the visual style, and overall, the story told in flashbacks is well-done, near-perfect noir, in fact; when it steps outside the frame, however, and tells the present day story - with the characters from the books interfering in some strange meta-fictional way - it loses its momentum, getting downright hammy in places.

And then, there are the musical numbers...

An ambitious film, but I'm not sure I mean it as a compliment; Joe Baltake probably said it best when he called this one an "interesting failure." Check it out, if for no other reason than this: it's different than most everything else you're watching.

Daniel Perry

Super Reviewer


This could have been amazing, but it fell short of an interesting story. The cast was good, but didn't really get to show off their talent due to the script. Mel Gibson's psychotherapist character was by far the best part. If it would've just been an actual noir homage then it would've been great.

Conner Rainwater

Super Reviewer

Complete madness...

Leigh Ryan

Super Reviewer

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