Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Singing Detective

I was actually really excited for today's movie, but alas for every reason The Singing Detective ought to have been good, it just really, really wasn't. I wish I could blame this pick on Netflix, but no, this was entirely of my own doing.

IMDB   Netflix
The Singing Detective was advertised as Robert Downey Jr. playing a bedridden author re-imagining himself into his pulp detective novel, implied in musical form. Which, with a tag like that, how could I possibly say no? Everyone else was skeptical - ultimately rightfully so - but I was wholly convinced that this was going to be really great.

Some of the advertised elements are there, of course. RDJ plays a writer who is nearly paralyzed with psoriasis-bordering-on-leprosy. His condition has him hallucinating the characters and events of his novel, a 50s noir that follows a private eye who moonlights as a club singer (the titular singing detective). But the film winds up being a baffling mash up of macabre musical numbers set to cheery 50s music, sequences of leprosy-y, hallucinating RDJ in the hospital, and mix and match scenes reenacted from his book and his childhood. The movie, really, is about coming to terms with the truth of what happened to him as a child (the psychosomatic cause of his illness and the underlying truth his therapist - a creepily bald Mel Gibson - thinks lies within the novel).

I would have love love loved the movie within the movie - that is, the actual story of the singing detective. And disjointed as these scenes were, they were fun and campy and everything I was hoping the film would be. But as the tagline says, this movie is all clues and no solutions, with strong hints in all directions, but no real resolutions anywhere, and really no strong line, at any point, between the main character's fantasy and reality. Instead, there's lots of very unsexy sex, flashbacks and paranoid daydreams that blur together, and even a couple characters that, as a plot point, don't know who they are, what they want, or why they keep showing up. Despite a star studded cast and a fab performance by RDJ, I found myself spending most of the movie just going... what?

At one point RDJ says the phrase kiss kiss, bang bang, and I found myself wishing I'd just rewatched that movie instead. 


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