There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Retreating psoriasis as an index of growing self-knowledgenow there’s an appealing visual metaphor. Yet Dennis Potter not only made the idea work in his 1986 BBC miniseries The Singing Detective, he made it dance a kick line, with a rich turn by Michael Gambon as his pain-crazed, flake-skinned antihero. The original Detective married psychodrama with gleeful pastiche, as Gambon’s Philip Marlowa failed author of detective noirrewrote his best book in his mind between hallucinations that his wife was betraying him and that his nurses and doctors were stars in Gold Diggers of 1933. But you can’t always smear on the same skin cream twice, and even though Potter also penned the screenplay for the new Detective, this version is a thoroughly Hollywoodized take on his pomo masterpieceincoherent, self-congratulatory, and star-struck. A lot of the finger-pointing can start with Robert Downey Jr., whose embittered and half-insane writer (now named Dan Dark) proves that typecasting can be very dangerous, indeed. The actor, who mainlines his singular style of smartass self-loathing, apparently thinks noir means pushing Potter’s plummy and scabrous witticisms out of the side of his mouthand because that’s the only moving part of his heavily bandaged body for much of the movie, we have a problem. It’s a curdled, repellent performance that shuts you out of the struggle in Dark’s mind like a slammed door. Director Keith Gordon provides little help as he skips among Dark’s illness, fantasies, and remembrances of childhood. Mel Gibson surprises as Dr. Gibbon, a balding, Mr. Magoo-spectacled shrink who verbally fences with Dark. But Potter and Gordon never show us how Gibbon finally gets under Dark’s skin, or why Dark finally sheds that skin for a new (if fictional) identity. Also missing is the original’s wicked reveling in pop culture and the way it furnished shallow but immensely satisfying ways to express our deepest emotions. This time around, the lip-synching and dance moves are short, almost embarrassed-seemingin other words, Britney popping open a Pepsi they ain’t. Then again, a film that thinks genre-mixing is still revolutionary doesn’t have much of an itch left to scratch. Robert Lalasz