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THE SINGING DETECTIVE

The late British playwright Dennis Potterís magnum opus made a splash when it hit BBC TV back in the mid 1980s. Here, in the hands of Keith Gordon (A Midnight Clear), the gumshoe parody cum musical gets a format upgrade and a locale switch from WW2 London to contemporary Los Angles. Robert Downey Jr. has the demanding role of Dan Dark, a two-bit pulp novelist hospital-ridden with a rare skin disease that makes him look like a "human pizza" and locks his joints. The drama hops from Darkís struggles with his estranged wife (a lithe Robin Wright Penn) over the rights to his literary collection to fever-induced delusions where his alter ego, a Bogart-style PI who "warbles," works a case. And then thereís his unenviable childhood, which was marred by his motherís unscrupulous affairs.

At junctures the film breaks into song ó lip-synched doo-wop and golden oldies. The idea is comically poetic at first, but by the end itís become trite, and it cannibalizes the caustic wit of Potterís dark prose. Downey nails down the gonzo mélange, yet itís Mel Gibson, unrecognizable as a balding, Birkenstock-sandaled psychoanalyst, who delivers the jaw dropper. Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, and Carla Gugino (Karen Cisco) all crop up in quirky bits, but for all its pop and verve, this Detective just canít sustain its tune.


Issue Date: November 7 - 13, 2003
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