Review – Sherlock Holmes

Originally Posted at 12/20/09

Sherlock Holmes makes me yawn. Just the thought of him bores the hell out of me. A supercilious, snooty cokehead in a stupid jacket, an even dumber hat, and a pipe that would make Hans Landa jealous, jammed into his crooked teeth; Solving crimes by pulling clues out of thin air. I am the person that Guy Ritchie is hoping to smack in the face with his energized adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr as a scruffy, quietly manic Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law as the put-together and surprisingly pimpish Dr. John Watson.

I didn’t really get a Guy Ritchie movie, though. “Holmes” plays more like a Zack Snyder concoction, candy coated and slick as all hell. But where Snyder is content to let abs just ripple wordlessly in slo-mo like an American Flag on the 4th of July, Ritchie uses all that extra time to let Holmes himself, in voiceover, explain to you exactly WHY he’s popping open cans of Krav Maga as a part-time pit fighter.

The injection of action into the mythology of Holmes is the slickest piece of subversion in this reimagining: Ritchie makes the argument that someone able to kick this much ass would HAVE to be a genius. It’s the most incisive look into Batman’s head we’ve ever seen, 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.” All the clichéd wonderfulness of the genre is as lovingly reproduced as the beautiful imagery of 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.

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 who has a tenuous grasp on Holmes’ leash, who only wants to settle down with his fiancée 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 getting too old for this shit.”

Mark Strong plays Lord Blackwood, a profoundly creepy villain who has convinced London he has 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 a demon itself 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 like Kryptonite to our hero, an angry superior (Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade) who gives Holmes’ the stinkeye while spitting lines like “I hope you know what you’re doing,” and a smarmy, sub-boss bad guy (Hans Matheson as Lord Coward) 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” 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. Now, 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 the film is completely empty-headed. It’s sort of 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 than the sum of its parts 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 one actor out there has a shot at legitimate old-school movie-star status aside from Will Smith, it just might be Robert Downey Jr.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:20 am  Comments Off on Review – Sherlock Holmes  
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