A review of “The Singing Detective” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: R for language nudity, shocking visuals

Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes



 Robert Downey, Jr. seems to have his offscreen substance abuse problems under control; a good thing since he’s the saving grace of this incoherent crime caper based on the classic British mini-series.

Downey plays crime novelist Dan Dark, hospitalized by a crippling case of the disfiguring skin and bone disease known as psoriatic arthropathy.  Through a haze of medication and frustration, Dark plays out a mentally surreal screenplay about a cynical private investigator cum dance band singer in gang-ridden 1950s Los Angeles. 

Fever dreams and fictional dignitaries ebb and flow through Dark’s mind and in and out of his hospital room, causing no small amount of narrative confusion and suspended reality.  Hookers extort technical secrets from atomic science experts, and nurses and doctors do a soft-shoe boogaloo around the hospital bed while Dark revisits the insidious secrets of his past.

Ex-wife Nicola (Robin Wright Penn) is a repeat visitor, plastering on a fake smile while the physically repulsive Dark bitterly accuses her of sleeping with a sordid character from his past and conspiring to steal a screenplay of his first novel The Singing Detective. 

While Dark whips his hallucinatory gumshoe into a muddled theatrical medley, Mel Gibson manages to lend a shade of credibility as Dr. Gibbons, a balding, bug-eyed hospital therapist whose controlled calm and eccentric mannerisms ultimately break through Dark’s tortured psyche.

What can you say about an actor who manages to enthrall while swaddled in oozing sores and crusting scabs?  A performer of such startling conviction that he transcends even the most bewildering material?   Downey’s movie is infuriatingly abstract and disjointed, but he’s a cinematic man among boys and worth the watch.