The idea of Sherlock Holmes makes me yawn. When I want to watch a snooty drug addict solve formulaic mysteries by pulling clues out of thin air, I'll turn on House . In other words, I'm the person Guy Ritchie is hoping to smack in the face with his energized, modernized adaptation of the famous detective novels, starring Robert Downey Jr as a scruffy, quietly manic Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law as a pimping ass Dr. John Watson (Just the way Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote him).
Weirdly, Ritchie's Holmes plays more like a Zack Snyder concoction, candy coated and slick as all hell. Except every moment where Snyder would have filled the screen with abs rippling in slo-mo like an American Flag on the 4th of July, Ritchie uses for talking. Usually Holmes himself, in voiceover, explaining exactly WHY he's popping open cans of Krav Maga as a part-time pit fighter.
The film makes the argument that someone able to kick this much ass would HAVE to be a genius, and it's the most incisive look into Batman's head we've seen since Dark Knight. It just happens to be in the middle of a Sherlock Holmes movie.
Or to be closer to the truth, Holmes is a classic 80's Buddy Cop movie dressed in Victorian clothes: The movie has much more in common with Lethal Weapon 2 than Hound of the Baskervilles.
Holmes is the sexy, self-destructive loose cannon whose case-closing skills excuse his propensity for getting things blowed up good. Watson is the beleaguered partner with a tenuous grasp on Holmes' leash, who only wants to settle down with his fiance and enjoy domesticated life. I half expected Watson to sigh at one point and mutter "2 weeks out from retirement, and then psychotic freemasons try to kill parliament and reclaim America. I'm gettin' too old for this shit."
The only thing Ritchie treats with less respect than the mystery genre is old-tyme London, which looks here as if God shoved a bunch of cheap aquarium castles into a muddy latrine and called it a day.
Mark Strong plays Lord Blackwood, a profoundly creepy villain who has convinced London he's risen from his own grave thanks to his mastery of black magic. He tells Holmes that he will kill 5 times, and that Holmes is powerless to stop him. The bodies begin to stack up, Holmes is framed, and has to bring down the devil himself in order to clear his and Watson's good names. Drugs are consumed, Dark Arts are practiced, the phrase "Dead Ginger Midget" gets tossed around liberally and the game is afoot.
As in every good Buddy Cop flick, There's a hot chick (Rachel MacAdams as Irene Adler) who's our hero's Kryptonite, an angry superior who gives Holmes' the stinkeye while spitting lines like "I hope you know what you're doing," and a smarmy, sub-boss bad guy hiding behind his position of authority.
There's something comforting in seeing this 80's-formula cheese repurposed and served up as "the thinking man's action movie." Mostly because it wears waistcoats and muttonchops, smokes pipes and has an accent. It should be a pretty decent test to see if that old chestnut "everything sounds smarter with a British accent" is true. I've listened to Karl Pilkington for 5 minutes, so I know that's bullshit, but it'll be interesting to see if someone who appreciated the density of plot in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra turns their nose up at Sherlock Holmes because "It's all smart and shit." Really, it's not.
That's not to say it's completely empty-headed. It's twisty, but accommodatingly so - most of the mysteries are almost instantly solved mere seconds after they're introduced, and the ones that aren't are neatly tied up in the entertaining little victory monologue Holmes gives at the end. The disappointments include MacAdams as a drab femme fatale, some deadly slow pacing problems in the middle third of the movie, and not enough moments where Downey and Law are allowed to just bullshit back and forth.
Law almost steals the movie out from under Downey, appropriating serious old-school suave of the classic Connery variety. But like Iron Man, this is Downey's show, and the little guy hoists another movie up on his back and makes a basic, mildly entertaining action flick into something more through sheer force of personality. Ritchie didn't change my mind about Holmes - most of the movie slid right off my brain about 2 minutes after I left the theater, and I feel no immediate need to ever see this thing again - but he did reinforce the growing notion that if any good actor out there has a shot at legitimate old-school movie-star status besides Will Smith, it just might be Robert Downey, Jr.
Check out more of Fatboy's reviews with 'Avatar' Is Horribly Written, Way Too Long, Totally Worth It and '2012' Sucks Worse Than the Mayans Could Have Predicted.