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The Singing Detective (2003)

When it comes to murder, seduction and betrayal he wrote the book. Now hes living it!

Directed by:

Keith Gordon

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

It’s not often you come across a major Hollywood production featuring a big-name cast which also goes all-out to take some risks and be different. In fact, to say it’s a bit of a rarity in the movie world would be akin to saying lead-player Robert Downey Jr. has made a couple of minor mistakes over the years. So I really wish I could say ‘The Singing Detective’ is a success – but I’d be a filthy no-good liar, so I won’t.

Adapted by Dennis Potter from his own critically-acclaimed 1986 BBC mini-series of the same name, it’s the tale of a hospital-bound novelist (Downey Jr.) whose paranoid hallucinations begin to consume his every waking minute. The events of his one and only successful book – the story of a crooning 50s gumshoe – go round and round in his head until he’s no longer able to separate fiction from reality and neither, for that matter, are we.

It’s a marvellously-directed piece of work, featuring a wonderful performance from Downey Jr. and some great support from the likes of Robin Wright Penn, Adrien Brody and Mel Gibson (he’s virtually unrecognisable as a bald, bespectacled psycho-therapist). Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most jumbled, messy and downright confusing films I’ve ever seen.

Part of the problem is that, while the TV format gave the tale precious room for manoeuvre, here the whole thing has to be squeezed into less than two hours. If this valiant effort is anything to go by, it just can’t be done. With no time to explain what’s going on or properly develop any of the facets of the story, the whole thing moves so quickly that as a viewer there’s a constant feeling that you’re being left behind.

There are snippets of a damn good production in there, but they just never come together to give us a satisfying finished article.

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It's Got: Stripping nurses, musical interludes, a couple of comedy hoodlums and one serious skin complaint.

It Needs: An industrial-sized vat of moisturiser.

DVD Extras Some fairly run-of-the-mill cast interviews featuring plenty of mutual back-slapping, and a look at the original trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10

Alternatives:

Summary

A brave attempt at bringing a landmark TV series to the big screen – but it doesn’t work.

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