Mixed or average reviews - based on 33 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 33
  2. Negative: 4 out of 33
Watch On
  1. 75
    The movie does not propose to be a comedy, a musical, a film noir story or a medical account. It proposes to be a subjective view of suffering, and the ways this character tries to cope with it. Understand that, and the pieces fall into place.
  2. 75
    Works not primarily because it's a strange and original brew, but because it accomplishes its goals without seeming to force things. The blending of reality with dreams, memories, and imagination is done flawlessly.
  3. It is worth catching The Singing Detective to see the brilliant Robert Downey Jr. in another extraordinary performance... Unfortunately, the film itself doesn't really work despite its lineage.
  4. Reviewed by: David Schwartz
    The musical fantasy scenes in the new Singing Detective are raw and purposely amateurish. Although Gordon sometimes fumbles the tonal shifts of the material, the acting is rock solid.
  5. Robert Downey Jr. is great in a role no one less magnetically reckless would dare approach.
  6. At one point, Downey's character is asked, "What are you gonna do with all this rage, this hate?" and he snaps back, "I'll probably just write serious literature." On TV, where the material seemed both serious and literate, that bit of black humour felt prophetic. On film, it's just a good joke.
  7. Despite intelligent, sympathetic direction by Gordon, a brilliant lead performance by Robert Downey Jr. and an adapted script written by Potter himself before his 1991 death, this "Detective" pales next to its predecessor.
  8. I had the sense that Gordon's ambitious, if awkwardly assembled, film had so many terrific ingredients that he felt compelled to use them all. In this case, alas, more is less.
  9. Try to forget about Michael Gambon in Potter's original BBC miniseries; Keith Gordon's film is its own thing, full of Brechtian artifice and oddball humor -- Mel Gibson's old man act in particular.
  10. Reviewed by: Staff (Not credited)
    A genuinely brilliant cast--Robin Wright Penn and Katie Holmes are especially notable--distinctive camerawork, and terrific art design all contribute to this unique blend of fantasy and reality that truly transports the viewer to a magical realm.
  11. It’s powerful, all right, and Downey’s performance is lacerating, but missing is any sense of lyricism in Dark’s hallucinatory yearnings. Without that leap of transcendence, this new Singing Detective doesn’t sing.
  12. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Potter's genius for wrapping black humor, poignancy and fantasy in utterly original story concepts lends this "Detective" an immediate fascination that doesn't begin wearing off for some time.
  13. 50
    At once daring and hackneyed, absorbing and off-putting, a triumph of one sort and, more lastingly, a failure of another.
  14. Admiring The Singing Detective is easy, and so is appreciating the originality of the story's conceit, the artistry of the actors and the directorial intelligence of Keith Gordon. But loving it would take an act of will.
  15. 50
    In a way, the film is a kind of experiment: Can you lop off the bulk of a classic work and still have something worth seeing? On this evidence, the answer is, despite the best intentions and some fine work, sadly no.
  16. Keith Gordon's brave attempt to make cinematic sense of Potter's 1986 BBC mini "The Singing Detective" at least has the advantage of a screenplay finished by Potter before his death. But problems of style and tone bedevil the earnest effort.
  17. 50
    The problems come in the shadow world, where everything's a jumble, where Dark's compositional strategy ("all clues and no solutions") eventually becomes wearing, and Gordon's direction can't hold it all together.
  18. Potter's trademark devices are all present, including the way characters burst into songs lip-synced to vintage recordings on the sound track.
  19. Lurches when it should glide, shouts when it should whisper and mumbles when it should sing.
  20. Too flat and academic to come alive. The film's lack of dimension tends to render much of it banal, and Downey's lengthy harangues, as beautifully wrought as they are, are overly literary, which serves to make this intricate film seem all the more contrived.
  21. You don't mess with perfection. That is the main reason why The Singing Detective, a virtual remake of the ­brilliant BBC-TV series of the 80s, falls flat on its psoriatic face.
  22. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    Somehow, by a narrow margin, the film doesn't quite make it. Potter recolored his work a little more sunnily, and it is, perhaps, too compressed; it needs TV's room to digress.
  23. Despite his harrowing real-life experiences, Downey, good as he is, is simply too young for the part. This callow telling begs for a more mature approach.
  24. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    The question that has to be asked is: Why? The original six-part BBC ''Singing Detective'' remains one of the signal achievements in the history of television -- really -- and its release on DVD this past spring puts it easily within reach of the curious.
  25. Reviewed by: Damon Wise
    Where Gambon made the perfect misanthrope, Downey doesn't quite fit the role. Astonishingly, despite his drug-related crimes and misdemeanours, he actually seems too innocent to be so crabby and vile.
  26. There’s definitely a certain fascination hovering about The Singing Detective, but after seeing the movie, that fascination turns to perverse dread.
  27. 40
    The problem for director Keith Gordon is that Potter's script pares down to virtual nothing the very narrative threads that allowed us, in the full-length version, to identify with his prickly protagonist, and knocks us upside the head with a hyperkinetic, disorienting first act from which audiences -- especially those approaching this material cold -- are unlikely to recover.
  28. Unfortunately, apart from Downey's convincing contribution, the movie feels too contrived, stagy and inorganic to draw any pleasure.
  29. 40
    Gordon's film is an art-house curio, visually ugly and emotionally and narratively dissonant. Its cheapness and poverty of imagination consistently undermines its ambitions and reduces its complexity to by-the-numbers Freudianism.
  30. See not only the original "Detective" but the Steve Martin-Bernadette Peters film "Pennies From Heaven." If you insist on giving Downey and company $8 instead, you'll be getting wooden nickels from Hell.
  31. 30
    What this Singing Detective really needed was to be reworked top to bottom, preferably by a writer fleeing some demons of his own.
  32. 20
    A failure on every level.
  33. Downey is undone by a woefully amateurish production that, sadly and ironically, looks like a cheap TV show.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 11 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 4
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 4
  3. Negative: 0 out of 4
  1. AndrewR.
    Aug 10, 2008
    Crazy mental trip.