The Singing Detective

Rated 3.0 A hospitalized mystery writer (Robert Downey Jr.), tormented by a painful skin disease, seeks refuge in bitter memories and fantasy riffs on one of his novels. Boiling Dennis Potter’s brilliant seven-hour miniseries down to 109 minutes probably was a fool’s errand—even for Potter himself, who wrote this script before his death in 1994. The film uneasily skims the surface like a stone over water, hitting highlights at random (director Keith Gordon is largely at sea). For the musical numbers, 1940s big-band swing yields to 1950s doo-wop, losing the film-noir atmosphere the old songs gave the miniseries. The newer ones play as impish afterthoughts. Acting saves the film. Downey is masterful, and the cast overflows with talent: Robin Wright Penn, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody and an unrecognizable Mel Gibson.