The Singing Detective
***.8 GM
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Carla Gugino, Jon Polito, Adrien Brody, Katie Holmes, Jeremy Northam, Mel Gibson


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SUNDANCE REVIEW (which means I'm doing a lot of reviews in a hurry, so they might be shorter and less fantastical):

The premiere of this film was apparently the first time it had been screened for anyone over the five people working on editing it. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Dan Dark, a wacked-out mental-case shivering with disease and mentally lost in his own pulp gumshoe novel as a way of coping with his horrible condition, and it is a weird, goofy, psychotic yet highly entertaining film. However, I found it amusing that during the Q&A afterwards, some guy asked Robert Downey Jr. about meanings and themes, and he responded with "Well, since you know what the film is about, can you explain it to me? I mean, I just saw the thing and I don't know what the hell... I mean, I get it, but... y'know?" Quite the cut-up, this guy, and very self-deprecating. Katie Holmes is in the movie. She is tall and from Toledo. Keeping it real.

I was also delighted when the director was talking about how he got the project started, mentioning that he and Downey had been in a little film called "Back To School" together, and I suddenly shot upright, looked closer at the guy and realized he was Rodney Dangerfield's SON from that movie. I'd wondered what happened to that guy. If you ever see "The Singing Detective" (which I believe has a good shot at making some noise this coming November or December), keep in mind that it would never have been possible without the Triple Lindy.

Downey is a goddamn tour-de-freakin'-force every time out, and it always makes me happy to remember he was on Saturday Night Live in the mid-80s when it wasn't very good. In this role, he's spastic, insane, swimming in delusion and coping with reality all at the same time. He gets to move back and forth from diseased-and-taking-it-out-on-everyone-else mental patient to wisecrackin' gumshoe lowlife problem-solver that winds up representing his own drive to defeat his demons and his illness.

I'm not sure why, but I always remember Carla Gugino as the girlfriend of Mikey J. Fox at the onset of "Spin City," possibly because there was a bit where Mikey got to swing his head through her shirt and out through her collar in that premiere episode. Here, though, she's playing Dark's lost and depressed mother who plays a big role in messing him up mentally by screwing around on his father with Jeremy Northam. Penn plays his long-suffering and semi-estranged wife as well as the embodiment of the female evils Dark perceives everywhere.

The real kicker is Mel Gibson in a role where several people didn't even recognize him - a soft-spoken, balding psychiatrist that works with Dark to help him get through his issues. He does an amazing job with this understated role, and it makes you wonder how a guy this sharp and this cool can be a freakin' creationist. Take the intelligence you show in the rest of your life, Mel, and apply it to your theology. It helps.

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