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The Mag: Movies: Grease is the word.

Byline: Richard Williamson

THE SINGING DETECTIVE (15)

CAN we trust Hollywood with Dennis Potter's masterpiece, bearing in mind the mess they made of Pennies From Heaven?

Fortunately, Potter didn't trust them either, so he wrote his own screenplay before he died, distilling several hours of television into a crisp 100-minute movie.

Instead of Michael Gambon we now have Robert Downey Jnr, an actor with more than enough demons of his own when he's away from the set but considerable talent when in front of the camera.

Dan Dark is tormented by a crippling skin disease and his only escape from pain and despair lies in a multi-layered universe of wild fantasies whirling around inside his head.

On one level he sees himself starring in his own pulp fiction novel, The Singing Detective, talking like Bogart and pursued by a pair of murderous thugs who contrive to be both comic and sinister.

Another, darker, dimension of his mind takes him back to a troubled childhood shadowed by the underlying violence surrounding a promiscuous mother and a taciturn father.

Out of all this grows a paranoia that he projects on to the imagined infidelities of his wife (Robin Wright Penn).

Oh yes, and they all keep bursting into song - mostly hits from the 1950s.

In the middle of all this a bald, middle-aged and quirky Mel Gibson pops up as the psychologist trying to help Dan through his labyrinth of pain and fear.

The movie can never quite match the television version. Katie Holmes, for instance, will never be able to replace Joanne Whalley as sexy Nurse Mills.

But it still has edginess, intensity, wit and that provocative, pugnacious, Potter ability to shock us out of our complacency and actually force us to think.

CAPTION(S):

IN PAIN... Robert Downey Jnr as Dan Dark
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 16, 2003
Words:302
Previous Article:The Mag: Movies: View from the sofa; What's new to rent this week.
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