Ye gad! Guy Ritchie made a kid's movie in the same vein as Pirates of the Caribbean. Sherlock Holmes gives the feeling of a Disney ride - this Ritchie number features uncharacteristically straightforward storytelling and zero cursing. As Sherlock homes would say, "It boggles the mind."
In the action-packed opening scene, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) are on the tail of occult "sorcerer" Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Their pursuit continues beyond the grave, hampered by criminal seductress Iren Adler (Rachel McAdams) and Scotland Yard's semi-bumbling Chief Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan). This is not the sort of intellectual brain teasers brought forth by of other Holmes sagas nor does it feature the super sleuthing of past Holmes performances that range from the likes of Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Christopher Plummer, Nicol Williamson and even Michael Caine. Rather, Downey's depiction is a buff, brawling, self-medicating, masochistic and supremely reclusive Holmes, humorously conducting experiments on himself and Watson's bulldog.
I think kids might really enjoy this movie but will balk at the action figure.
The first part of the movie sets up Holmes as an intellectual pugilist in typical Ritchie stylistic approach: Over-the-top camera angles diagramming slow-motion punches that are then re-enacted in real time as Holmes slugs the crap out of his opponent. This fighting tactic, seemingly meant set up the film's climax, is abandoned early in the flick, leaving the audience expecting the villain to get his just desserts. It just doesn't happen. The movie seems to diffuse its intentions at every chance. Where it could've been witty, it remained simply smart-alecky. Where high-octane action was required, it became only sufficiently "action-y." The plot sagged in the middle and the performances were merely lackluster, staying on an even keel where a higher manic energy would've provided much more satisfactory entertainment. The range of music supporting the scenes felt plucked from different movies - an Irish jig here and somber tones there.
Kudos must go to Downey, however, as he takes on every role with some sort of vim and vigor, but where his Tony Stark in Iron Man jumped out of the screen at you, this Sherlock is more laid back. Amidst unintelligible lines we're invited to guess about his instincts. Law's Watson is not the bumbler of his predecessors' versions but an ass-kicking sidekick that verbally spars with Holmes on every level. Downey and Law do an impeccable job, but there's too much time spent on their "bromantic" bickering, as when Holmes sabotages the relationship with Watson's fiancé, McAdams (The Notebook) who is adequate as Holmes' decoy love interest. Marsan (Happy Go Lucky) shines in dim-wittedly comic fashion. Mark Strong (Body of Lies), looking like a demonic Andy Garcia, depicts one of the most evil villains in cinematic history.
Despite the cool backdrop, England in a decay-meets-reconstruction look, the film's core remains mediocre at best. It picks up the pace for a knock-down-drag-out slug fest then spends too much time setting up more plot and countless clues. When old hat conventions mingle with new ideas and technology, it's got to be something utterly fantastic in order to keep us engaged. Sherlock Holmes has a been-there-done-that sensibility with its muddled action, muffled dialogue and convoluted plot.
Riding on the coattails of a nemesis set-up near the end, Watson and Holmes smugly know what's going on and why, whereas we don't get to. It's as if the filmmakers decided on an inside joke that they're not going to let us in on until we get to the sequel. I can only hope that the next Sherlock Holmes gets revved up a notch.
Sherlock Holmes ★★✩✩✩
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Mark Strong, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan. Directed by Guy Ritchie.