Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Mel Gibson, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, Jon Polito, Carla Gugino, Saul Rubinek, Alfre Woodard, Amy Aquino, David Dorfman, Eddie Jones, Lily Knight, Clyde Kusatsu, Earl C. Poitier, Andy Umberger
Written by: Dennis Potter, based on his own teleplay
Directed by: Keith Gordon
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language and some violence
Running Time: 109
Date: 01/17/2003

The Singing Detective (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Thin Skinned

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Watching Robert Downey Jr. perform is one of the great pleasures of going to the movies today. He acts with much of the same magic, poetry, intelligence and skill that Michael Jordan applies to basketball and Charlie Parker to jazz. Here he plays Dan Dark, a pulp writer stricken with a horrible skin disease. While lying in his hospital bed, he must sort through a blitz of hallucinations -- scenes from noir thrillers with lip-synched musical numbers thrown in -- and try to find his true self. Fans of the original 1986 BBC television miniseries will find this a bastardized truncation, but it has an essence of its own. Creator Dennis Potter apparently wrote the screenplay before he died in 1994, and an excellent cast rounds out the proceedings: Robin Wright Penn, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, Carla Gugino and more, plus an almost indistinguishable Mel Gibson (who also produced). Keith Gordon (Waking the Dead) directs.

Since the whole thing was originally written for television anyway, this new film plays surprisingly well on home video. Keith Gordon provides a commentary track. Legend Films helped re-release Paramount's DVD in 2008. In 2015, Olive Films gave the film a Blu-ray release, but with none of the earlier bonus features. Picture quality looks fine for a movie made in 2003, though probably not as bold as one might expect.

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