I really wanted to enjoy this film. I’m not even sure exactly where I heard about it, but the quasi-surreal premise mixed with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, who is one of my favorite modern actors, seemed like it could be a brilliantly funny mix. Though there are some laughs to be had at the bizarre nature of some of the scenes, on the whole, this was a terribly boring flick.
The original premise of the story was adapted for BBC TV as a television serial in 1986 to wide acclaim. Following the British television reception, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood started eyeing the project, though it would be almost 20 years before the film was produced because of falling into what we in the business like to call “development hell.” Anyway, the story follows three separate but interconnected timelines: First, there is the story line of author Dan Dark (Downey Jr.), a novelist, who is in the hospital for a severe case of psoriasis; second, a reimaging of his first novel, “The Singing Detective”, in his mind while in the hospital with himself now playing the lead role; and finally, flashbacks of his childhood which present a clear picture of some of his original inspiration for the pulp novel itself. Tinged with surreality throughout, the film becomes a hodge podge of these three story lines mixed with the occasional visit to psychiatrist Dr. Gibbons office, who is played by producer Mel Gibson (almost unrecognizably).
There are scenes in this film that work, but as a whole, this is a very disjointed picture. The cinematography, to me, looked cheap, more in line with a television movie and even the impressive cast can’t save the mutilation of the story itself. I really wanted to enjoy this film, but just couldn’t; I kept giving it 10 more minutes throughout, but when I got to the hour and ten minute marker of this hour and forty minute film, I called it and started watching The Ribos Operation, a Tom Baker Doctor Who serial. I just could’t take it any longer, was not interested and definitely not entertained. It could have been a great mix with a little cleaning up around the edges, but in the end, it was just a sorry excuse at Hollywoodizing author Dennis Potter’s original material.