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Almost completely immobile with acute psoriasis, his body a mess of sores and scabs, struggling novelist Dan Dark (Robert Downey jnr) lies deeply disturbed, angry and aggressive in a hospital bed. His hallucinations throw him into the midst of a strange noir thriller, in which his wife (Robin Wright Penn) is cheating on him with a coldhearted figure from Dan's childhood (Jeremy Northam), and two strange gangsters (Adrien Brody, Jon Polito) are after him. To make things worse, his doctors all seem quite mad, breaking into song while circling his bed. Assigned to goggle eyed Dr Gibbon (Mel Gibson), Dan is forced to confront his demons.

Review by Louise Keller:
The Singing Detective is a bizarre trip, combining its noir thriller and musical fantasy elements with a reality that becomes confused with both time and fiction. An ambitious project that originated with the popular 80s Dennis Potter television series, its creator has modified the concept for the big screen, replacing the original English setting to its American one, but keeping the basic themes intact. There's a fine line between the pathos and humour of the protagonist.

Entertaining, amusing, confusing and occasionally painfully tragic, we are fascinated most of the time, largely due to Robert Downey Jnr's brilliant portrayal of the troubled bed-ridden author, who is so convincing in every facet of his multi-roles, that we are drawn to him like a magnet.

From a hysterical madman in denial to suave crooner and vulnerable little boy lost, Downey Jnr gives an edgy, unpredictable performance of the highest order. I guarantee you will have to look twice to recognise Mel Gibson as the balding, bespectacled hunched psychoanalyst whose magnified eyes make him look a little like Mr Magoo. Gibson is terrific, and the scenes between his Dr Gibbons and Dan Dark sit on a knife's edge. But all the cast is exceptional, with Robin Wright-Penn as Dark's complex wife, Jeremy Northam's enigmatically playful dark stranger, Katie Holmes' sweet angelic nurse plus Adrien Brody and Jon Polito as the two gangsters who pop up at the most unexpected times.

It's a crazy, mixed up world that burns within the mind of Dan Dark, as he is unceremoniously stuck in a hospital bed, a prisoner inside his own skin. Trapped in his own nightmares, Dark swims upstream into his tormented past and gets lost in a world where mysterious characters in suede hats smoke their cigarettes and draw guns in the shadows. Oh yes, and there's also a dame - there's always a dame.

It's a world filled with danger, uncertainty, lust and passion. But there's relief in the form of musical fantasy, when Dark escapes in a heavenly world in which characters from all his realities join him in song and dance. A scene in which a group of solemn doctors and nurses peering at Dark around his hospital bed suddenly transform into their underwear as they explode into a delightful and amusing rendition of Mr Sandman. Then there's the highly memorable scene when Katie Holmes' Nurse Mills utters those words 'I'm going to have to lift your penis to grease all around it,' which sets Dark into a fantasy with a pink Cadillac.

While the focus of the film becomes a little diluted at times, there's much that is enjoyable as we get sucked into this truly offbeat reality where anything goes. The music is great and in the closing credits, there's a special significance as we hear Downey Jnr's own stirring musical rendition of 'It's Only Make Believe'.
The DVD features cast and crew interviews and theatrical trailer.

Published October 21, 2004

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CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Mel Gibson, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, Jon Polito, Carla Gugino, Saul Rubinek, Alfre Woodard

DIRECTOR: Keith Gordon

SCRIPT: Dennis Potter

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew interviews, trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: October 20, 2004

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