Picks and Pans Review: The Singing Detective

updated 11/03/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Robert Downey Jr., Mel Gibson, Robin Wright Penn, Katie Holmes

[STARS 3]

Lying in a hospital bed, the angry prisoner of a painful skin disease, Dan Dark (Downey) drifts in and out of reality. A writer of pulpy detective novels, he keeps con-fusing his real life and his books, imagining himself the star of Technicolor musical extravaganzas featuring '50s pop standards.

Such is the weird and wonderful world of The Singing Detective, director Keith Gordon's surprisingly successful, if somewhat convoluted, movie version of British writer Dennis Potter's brilliant and heartbreaking 1986 TV series. (The movie is based on a film adaptation Potter wrote before his death in 1994.) Downey, alternately anguished, sarcastic and suave, gives the performance of his career. He touches so many emotional bases, one gets dizzy watching him. A nearly unrecognizable Gibson (who also produced) shows up to great comic effect as a bald, folksy psychiatrist. (R)

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