"I'm a prisoner inside my own skin." So says Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr), hack novelist and lifelong sufferer of psoriatic arthropathy, a horrific disease that has left him with barely functioning limbs and an appalling welter of blisters and rashes over every inch of his body. Dark spews rage at everyone who comes near him, from his fed-up wife (Robin Wright Penn) to the gaggle of aloof doctors who occasionally drop by to put him on a different drug.
To get away from the misery of his day-to-day existence, Dark retreats into a 1950s film noir fantasy world straight from one of his books, where he's a handsome band singer who moonlights as a gumshoe. In the fantasy, he gets tangled up in a plot revolving around a dead blonde dame, the sinister Mark Binney (Jeremy Northam) who hires Dark to investigate her murder, and a couple of palookas in sharp suits (Adrien Brody and Jon Polito) who keep trying to bump Dark off. Unfortunately, the fantasy starts getting mixed up into Dark's real life - Chandler-esque gangsters showing up at his bedside, and hospital staff bursting into renditions of doo-wop hits that Dark's alter ego would have sung in an L.A. nightclub - and he has trouble keeping them separate.
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