Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes arrives with particular disappointment, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t have any unbreakable attachment to the character of Sherlock Holmes. Those that do: beware. You’re bound to be even more appalled by this over-written, over-edited, and only moderately entertaining “re-imagining” (oh, how that is one of my all-time favorite Hollywood buzzwords) of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and his partner-in-crime, Dr. John Watson.
The film begins with the capture of black magic serial killer Lord Blackwood (Strong). It was one of the biggest unsolved cases in this 1880’s London, and there to take the credit is Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr.) and his right-hand man, Watson (Law). They routinely outsmart the Scotland Yard whilst keeping a low profile in the press. When Blackwood somehow rises from the grave, however, Holmes and Watson enter uncharted territory in their quest to re-capture him and unravel how Blackwood has pulled off a seemingly impossible feat.
Director Guy Ritchie, whose Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two of my favorite crime thrillers, is simply the wrong director for this material. His hyperactive style suited the latter two films just fine, but here it’s annoying and out-of-place. It’s one thing to ask us to accept Holmes as a karate-chopping action hero, but it’s another to hyper-edit the film to oblivion. It’s a shame, because his 1880’s England looks fantastic and several of the action set pieces do work. Working much less, is the overcomplicated storyline that is bow-tied at the end, but you can’t help but feel a bit cheated since no one will have been able to put it together anyway.
Robert Downey Jr. is an interesting choice to play Holmes, and he does what he can with the material. His Holmes is a largely unkempt man who spends days on end trying to invent things, drinking, and womanizing. Overshadowing him at nearly every turn is Jude Law’s Watson, who is funnier and strangely more likeable. Law excels in the role, especially in the back-and-forth dialogue (and sometime incomprehensibly so) with Holmes. Rachel McAdams turns up as the femme fatale/love interest, but her role can simply be deduced as the way to leave the door open for a sequel. She’s really not given much to do.
Longtime fans of Sherlock Holmes will be reluctant to grasp onto this whole thing. This hyperactive approach does not suit the material and obviously didn’t even exist when Arthur Conan Doyle created the characters. Compounding the problems is a script that offers an only moderately interesting concept and an overly complicated path to an inevitable conclusion. As a Christmas diversion, it will work for some. As a tribute and effort to introduce Sherlock Holmes to a new generation, it’s a notable disappointment.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 128 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.
Theatrical Release: December 25, 2009
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Michael Robert Johnson & Anthony Peckham & Simon Kinberg. Based upon the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan