Saturday, December 10, 2005

I Wonder If Roberts De-Tox Was Like This?

A Movie Review

Dennis Potters 1986 BBC production The Singing Detective is arguably one of the best mini-series ever made (I myself think the best British mini-series ever made is To Serve Them All My Days, with Detective a close second), however director Keith Gordons 2003 theatrical re-mark is just plain awful. This movie is horrible, it is a travesty, it is just too much stuff crammed into an hour and forty-seven minutes! The best way I can think to describe the relationship between the two works is that they are both like Dr. Pepper. Now I like Dr. Pepper, it is good stuff, however I don't think I'd like to drink the syrup. The 2003 Singing Detective is the syrup, it is Potters classic work in concentrate form and not fit for human consumption.

This being said I did want to comment a little about the casting. When I first heard about this movie I was excited, especially after I got a look at who was in it. The strongest thing about the picture is its wonderfull ensemble cast, and it is truly unfortunate that so much talent was wasted in this dreadfully little film. Now Robert Downey Jr. was an interesting choice to fill the lead role of Dan Dark (in the original the title character was called Phillip Marlowe and played by the great Michael Gambon), because this character is hallucinating throughout the film, something Mr. Downey might know all to well about from personal experience. Mel Gibson is Dr. Gibbon, whose performance under heavy make-up is the most enjoyable characterization in the piece (the movie by the way was distributed by Gibsons Icon Films). Katie Holmes is perfectly cast, though all to briefly seen, in the role of the sympathetic nurse originated by the equally beautiful Joanne Whally (look her up). Robin Wright Penn is a no-brainier as Dan's estranged wife, while Adrien Brody and Jon Polito make a potentially entertaning pair as the hoods from Dan's book who attempt to kidnap him in their anger at being such poorly developed characters.

I suppose at this point its best that I explain something of what this story is about. The Singing Detective as originally conceived is a wonderfully complicated, multi-layer work. Though the setting has been bumped up a decade or so from the original and transferd from England to southern California, the basic plot is the same: An irritable writer of detective stories is confined to his hospital bed with a sever skin condition, in his mind he is re-writing the plot from his first novel (which we see visually), with the action in both storylines intercut with flash-backs from the authors troubled childhood. The whole audacious thing worked the first time because it was spaced out in half a dozen 1 hour episodes, trying to clock even a simplified version of things into the films running time is like making one 2 1/2 hour movie version of the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, it will suck and tee-off fans.

The best thing I can tell you about this movie is it made me want to watch the original again, which I recommend you see if you ever dare venture into Dennis Potter territory. As a side note I'd like to mention that the late British television writer has had a history of unsatisfying film adaptations of his work. The early 80's movie of his Pennies From Heaven TV series (staring Steve Martin) was critically lambasted. Incidentally, if you want to view a truly good film satire of the detective genre see Steve Martins own 1982 gem Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which will air this Sunday on TCM (8:00 pm mountain Time). You know I'll be watching it, so don't you call me Sunday evening.


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