The Singing Detective Reviews
July 8, 2014
On paper, this movie sounds amazing. It's a metaficitonal noir-tinged musical starring Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson? Should be awesome, right? Unfortunately, it's not. The execution is just bad: there's no clear arc to the story or character development, the movie just look sort of cheap, the musical numbers seem to happen more or less at random (and aren't original songs, but lip-synced versions of kitschy 40s and 50s pop songs), and nothing about it really makes much sense. Robert Downey Jr. is entertaining just by default, and Gibson gives a surprisingly restrained performance given that he's made up to look like a crazy person, but that's about it. It's adapted from a 6-hour TV miniseries, which I've never seen, and which I suspect probably works better. In this abbreviated form, though, the movie feels slapdash and incomplete. It's an interesting premise that never seems to gel into an actual good movie. Alas.
June 24, 2014
a big disappointment. more pretentious than clever.
January 11, 2014
If the director had the ability to catch the spirit of Dennis Potter script using the great talent of Robert Downey Jr. better it would have been a great movie.
December 27, 2013
Based on the brilliant BBC mini series from 1986, this film remake is just a mess. The story is that of a pulp novelist immobile and delusional because of a crippling skin desease. As he lies in bed he hallucinates and mixes scenes of his novel with scenes of his own childhood. The film is almost impossible to follow, and makes the experience of watching it more annoying. Really, the film ends up looking like a waste of a great concept and a waste of great talent.
December 9, 2013
I watched this before the British TV series expecting something unusual. Well, it's unusual ok...but seems like the wrong sort of people trying to be different and somehow ends up a little too affected for my taste.
November 29, 2013
Very odd film that you either go along with or you don't. I liked it just enough to find it enjoyable but I can see with ease how someone else could be put off by the eccentricities.
October 19, 2013
Dark, satisfying and funny. Downey Jr stars in a underrated classic which deals with mental torments and how we sometimes write about ourselves without knowing we are. Gibson and Wright give strong co-performances.
October 6, 2013
when i first saw this i thought it was horribly miscast but upon re-viewing i realize it is perfect casting and i liked it.
July 17, 2013
Not a good movie. The film feels very messy, it has several lame musical numbers that aren't even synced and timed correctly. The film underuses R.D. Jr. , but does give a good performance from Mel Gibson and Katie Holmes, strangely enough. Not a film that I would recommend.
May 14, 2013
I'm not a fan of David Lynch at all, and The Singing Detective felt very influenced by his style. Not even a solid performance from Robert Downey Jr. was enough to keep this one from being a real stinker, with all it's uninspired, lazy dance numbers that served no purpose to the story, unless they were intended to slow the film down.
April 20, 2013
I have neither read the novel nor seen the original mini-series. A relative was enthralled with both, so seeing this listed on my cable guide I decided to give it a shot. I knew only the basic premise - that the film would be centered around a writer of pulp detective fiction who fantasizes about the lives of his characters as a way to escape his debilitating chronic skin disease. This was a good impression to enter this movie with, though far from complete. The 'singing detective' is the main character in Dan Dark's first novel, and an imaginary alter-ego existing in a seedy film-noir world of pulp fiction, in which Dark has encoded all of the traumas of his emotionally disturbing life. Meanwhile, Dark himself lies in a hospital bed incapacitated by some form of chronic leprosy and spreading a message of hate to everybody who dares to try to help him. The film focuses - though rather impressionistically - on Dan Dark's psychological journey during a prolonged hospital stay.
Without the background most viewers of this film might approach it with, I can only view it as an outsider, judging it only on its own merits. There are a few major problems which immediately come to mind. First - The Singing Detective is slated as a comedy. While I suppose some people might see it as a dark comedy, I am afraid that I found none of it funny whatsoever. Obnoxious, mean-spirited verbal violence does not amuse me. Second - though I do not have the insider perspective needed to support this idea (I haven't even read any IMDb reviews of this film), I suspect that the film leaves a lot of the development of its basic theme - of healing - out. Paradoxically, this problem seems to develop because of the nearly exclusive focus on Downey's deeply disturbed and paranoid character Dark, and his hospital antics. Yes, he's a very difficult patient - we get that right away - but is it necessary to drive it home scene after scene after scene? Downey's Dark is a blend of Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman's Rainman, while his "Singing Detective" is a cold-fish hybrid of Humphrey Bogart, Bob Mitchum and all of the other noir detectives ever seen on the big screen. And he sings (this is a fact which is neither explained nor well-developed, but I am sure that the silly 1950s RnR tunes are the only venue for positive emotions the character allows himself). Downey's performances are, as usual, good, but they fail to sustain the entire film (which they are, unfortunately, asked to do). Mel Gibson, playing the hospital psychoanalyst, steals the show, despite his decidedly minor though important role. The rest - the pretty young nurse, the ambiguous wife, and the characters inhabiting Dark's fantasies and later his hallucinations are all well written and performed, but fail to compensate for the somewhat dull development of the central theme.
Good films based on unfamiliar literary works always make me want to read the original material (Master and Commander, The World According to Garp, and Bladerunner are some examples). When I see a good film based on a book I am familiar with (LOTR, Cider House Rules, Minority Report, The Shining, Solaris, for example) I approach it with a head full of expectations. With this film, I had only a palm full of expectations, and, though my review may sound negative, I was pleasantly surprised. The film dove unexpectedly deep, but in the end, came up a little empty-handed for me. Nor did I expect the film to be as breezily entertaining as it was. Balancing breezy entertainment and deep psychological drama (not to mention literary comedy and plenty of music) is a difficult task. Though The Singing Detective ultimately fails in this ambitious goal, it is still worth seeing, if nothing else, as an appetizer for the mini-series - which I will borrow from my relative post-haste.
November 25, 2012
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.
December 17, 2012
This film version of the original TV 6 part mini series was a big let down. They turned a real jewel into a cheap trinket. If you ever have a chance to watch the original TV version you will see how Michael Gambon makes the real detective sing.
December 7, 2012
Will have to watch this one. Not necassarily good or bad. Will see. Want to watch!
November 16, 2012
A must see. The visuals are excellent, the story is wonderful. Shades of Barton Fink.
November 15, 2012
I can't unsee this movie and i really wish I could.
September 11, 2012
Downey begins his ascendancy here with a strange performance as both a very sick man dealing with childhood trauma, and a classic noir PI. Gibson, Holmes and Brody are great. The old musical bits are a bit much, but it all fits together to an enjoyable and interesting diversion.
August 23, 2012
The Singing Detective is Weird - Incoherent boring babble sporadically populated with upbeat musical numbers paced with offbeat timing. The Noir misfit movie wasn't my cup of tea and after 20 minutes I turned it off.
The original tv version was far superior, and if you've seen both the movie and Tv Series you most likely can relate to my sense of agony and disapointment. The comparison isn't close. What could have been Downey Jr's. biggest film achievements since Chaplin.
August 5, 2011
total mess of a film and a giant waste of talent
July 18, 2012
I haven‚(TM)t seen the classic Dennis Potter television series ‚The Singing Detective,‚? but I felt like I got most of what Director Keith Gordon was trying to convey in this 2003 Hollywood version. Robert Downey Jr. gives another familiar but entertaining performance as Dan Dark, a pulp author whose ideas become manifest as he lies in drug stupor on a hospital bed.
The concept is marvelous, as is the ironic and surreal tone of this endless dream sequence. Somehow the pacing and structure are off, though, making the whole thing feel uneven and aimless. Still, a truly enjoyable, entertaining and quirky little oddity with a character quite of its own.