By the time Keith Gordon’s odd, extremely stylized remake of “The Singing Detective” gets around to its point, the audience is liable to be angry at it for dragging its feet so long, and for being so weird in the process. At least, that was my reaction, when I could muster any reaction beyond simple boredom.
“The Singing Detective,” based on a beloved 1986 miniseries, is about an author named Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) who suffers from a debilitating skin disease that has rendered him even more hateful and misogynistic than he used to be. His books are about a singing detective who, in a surprising move, is Dark’s alter ego! And his fiction reflects his own feelings!
Downey’s performance is rather good, moving between rage and sadness without warning, and the makeup work on him is pretty impressive. Mel Gibson is interesting as a peculiar psychiatrist who examines Dark. So no, the performances are not the problem here.
It’s the style that does the film in. Dark hallucinates several musical numbers, generally of 1950s prototypical rock ‘n’ roll songs (already problematic, since the genre of the film is more detective noir, which is ’40s). These are not staged with any particular imagination or wit, nor do they have anything to do with the story or characters at hand. They seem almost 100 percent random, and they appear at random times.
Furthermore, the film is all about Dan Dark sorting through issues that we figure out long before he does. It is a slow-moving, uneventful detective story, mixed with the only slightly more compelling story of Dan Dark and his gross skin.
C- (1 hr., 48 min.; )