Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Marc Strong, Rachel McAdams
Review: 3 stars (of five)
This new Sherlock Holmes movie is, without question, a stupid, loud, frenetic action movie, ably directed as such. Put that at the middle of the continuum. Now, at the far left is the fact, to the film’s detriment, that it is a pathetic desecration of the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a hundred-something years ago, and has little to no concept of the Victorian era in which it is ostensibly set. On the far right is the fact, to the film’s credit, that Robert Downey Jr. is always spectacular to watch, and Jude Law is perfectly cast as his bromantic foil. How much you care about the Doyle thing versus the Downey thing determines where you fall on the continuum. Toward the left, you ain’t liking it much and toward the right, you’re having a fine, fine time.
You may be used to a Sherlock Holmes who is sober and competent, and who solves actual crimes using his wits and amazing powers of observation. This is not that Holmes. This Holmes fights possibly supernatural terrorists with vague plans to take over England and the United States by, um, scaring people with tricks. This Holmes is a flawless hand-to-hand combatant because his mind is so quick he can figure out the exact combination of moves (which Ritchie likes to show us in slow-mo) that will fell his foe, before the fight even starts. And he’s a rascal, a smart-ass rogue, a wreck.
The movie’s villain is some kind of cult leader, a smooth British doppelganger of Andy Garcia, weirdly, who wants not only to take over England but makes an explicit point of saying his first task will be to reconquer America — as though the American audience needs the threat to be “personal.” All this crap, plus a sharp-witted, amoral love interest straight off the rack, is credited to five, six, eight writers, I forget, and shows all the signs of having gone through too many undercompetent hands, both credited and floating in the studio background.
Ritchie directs the film like he’s on crank (appropriately enough), the heroes are amusing, the villain is one note of constant, rumbling menace, there’s a mysterious character for the sequel (helps if you know the name of Holmes’ greatest foe), and the love interest is uninteresting both as written and as performed.
This film would’ve been far better if it had not pretended to be about Sherlock Holmes. You want a fine American actor to play a sharp-thinking but drug-addicted* antihero who stumbles through a wild, high-tech plot by ill-defined cartoon terrorists? Make it in the present day — you’d just be swapping out Nicolas Cage for an actor who still has his chops and still gives a damn. Without Downey, no one would like this movie.
Anyway, it’s loud, harmless fluff, and they’re blatantly setting up a sequel or two, so either get on board or don’t. There you go.
*Yes, of course Holmes was a drug user/addict in the original stories. Actually, the film’s use of that as a key to character in this terribly modern update is one of the best creative choices the filmmakers made, besides casting Downey in the first place.