The Singing Detective  (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film has an excellent provenance: the late Dennis Potter's TV miniseries was highly acclaimed back in 1986, and Potter himself wrote the screenplay for this feature adaptation, transposing part of the locale from 1940's Britain to 1950's America, and personally choosing most of the new songs. (One of the ones he wanted was, according to the director, "too costly", but the other selections conformed to Potter's script.) The premise is as follows: an author of grade-b detective stories is in the hospital with a severe case of psoriasis, which is probably stress-induced. His lesions, pustules, scales, and peeling are so bad that people can barely stand to look at him, and he is almost totally immobile.

His psychiatrist (Mel Gibson, playing against type in thick glasses, a bald head, too-short pants, and the walk of an 80- year old man) tries to get to the heart of the author's psyche by making him look at his stories, his childhood, his life, and his disease as interrelated elements - "clues" - in a bigger detective mystery.

Trapped in bed, often hallucinating, the author also winds all of these elements together in his subconscious, as refected in dreams, fantasies, and the mental creation of a new storyline. Because one of his old detective stories was an oddity about a singing detective, that singin' dick becomes his subconscious alter-ego, and his fantasies often turn into musical comedy numbers.

It's surrealism of course, but of an engaging and entertaining variety that never steers the audience too far from the real point. It's a pretty funny movie, and a pretty fair psychological mystery yarn as well. It features a great cast, glued together by the always-engaging Robert Downey Jr as the author/patient struggling to cure himself or resist curing himself.  The players did a nice job all around on this offbeat not-for-everyone film which received a mixed reaction at Sundance.

Miscellaneous notes: 


No female nudity. The film features Carla Gugino, Katie Holmes, and Robin Wright Penn, and they all look great, but never go beyond the underwear stage

There is very brief male nudity in the form of the top half of Jeremy Northam's butt

  • I got a special kick out of Adrien Brody and Jon Polito as a couple of fictional Rosenkrantz-and-Guildenstern mobsters in the author's fantasy/dreams who seem to have no purpose, and resent the author for that very reason! (You expect them to break into "Brush up your Shakespeare" at any moment, but it never happens). Enjoy Brody the minor character while you can. The Pianist will probably turn him into the star-or-nothing category. It feels strange to see him in a tiny role with a few lines of dialogue in this film, after having watched him on camera for almost the entire 3 hour duration of The Pianist.
not yet available in theaters or on home media
  • Although the 50's songs are the original artists's versions, lip-synched by the actors, Downey Jr does sing his own version of one of the oldies over the closing credits. The man is a tremendous talent. I've always thought he was one of the best actors in the world, and he can sing as well.

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...

  • IMDb summary . Voting results: it is 7.0/10 as I write this, but that it based on only 6 votes. I expect it to come in a little lower.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+. Offbeat quirky film that is professionally done but will not please mass audiences. (Many at Sundance thought it was too weird.)

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