The Singing Detective

Directed by Keith Gordon

> > Mar 2004

The Singing Detective - Directed by Keith Gordon
By Laura FrancisWhen The Singing Detective appeared on British television in 1986, it was regarded by many as one of the best things on television ever. Fans of the BBC miniseries are legion, a devoted bunch who will happily disseminate the Freudian meanderings of the story's protagonist, the aptly named Dan Dark (at my count there were over a 3,000 fan sites). Diehard fans would do best to steer clear of the current American remake however, which is sloppy and muddled to the point of being unwatchable. First time viewers won't likely enjoy the remake either, which is a shame when you consider what unbelievable material director Keith Gordon (Waking the Dead) had to work with. Based on a script by its original author (playwright Dennis Potter, who died in 1994), our protagonist is a washed-up mystery writer suffering from a raging case of psoriatic arthritis, or in laymen's terms: massive weeping boils. Lying incapacitated in a hospital room, Dan Dark is hardly the model patient. Openly hostile, he rages against everybody and everything — his frustrated ex-wife, his new psychiatrist, his inability to heal, his sexual inadequacies — no stone is left unturned. More fun for us, though, are his forays into the imagination. Dark careens wildly between hallucination and reality: characters from his books visit him bedside, mingling with hospital staff, who are doing their level best to make their patient well, while childhood memories float in and out as he flips between wakefulness. Add to this that he often breaks out into song and you begin to see get the picture. Or do you? For this is where Gordon fails his viewers most miserably. He is not adept at guiding us seamlessly through Darks' fever dream and we are forever left wondering what is real and what imagined. In the original series, the lead character's hallucinations and memories floated upon the soundtrack of popular music from the '30s and '40s, and helped guide us in figuring out what was real and what was imagined. In this version, music is just for punctuation and nothing more; it is a way for the director to inject some quirkiness, a device that leaves us more frustrated than titillated. Robert Downey, Jr. is once again the best thing in an otherwise pointless film. Though he plays his emotions at times with incredible deftness, the ridiculous presentation of the material often leaves him floundering. In the hands of a more mature craftsman than Gordon, the end product might not have sounded such a false note. Plus: director's commentary. (Paramount)
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