Hollywood is forever trying to update stuff, and the results are almost always painful, either because the source material isn’t worth revisiting (hello, Karate Kid remake and CG-coated Alvin and the Chipmunks) or because the new versions are self-consciously “modern” in ways that alienate fans of the originals. In other words, no one had any reason to expect Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes to be a sensitive, sensible return to the big screen for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective — between Ritchie’s trademark lack of subtlety as a filmmaker and the itchy, frenetic acting style Robert Downey, Jr. tends to bring to his big paycheck gigs, odds were high that Holmes would be a loud, special effects-laden mess.
And it is. It’s a fun mess, though, and even if many members of the global network of crazy Holmes fanatics hated Sherlock Holmes, it essentially does what it’s supposed to do, which is make the detective appealing to a new audience. If it errs a little too far on the side of modern filmmaking trends — such as the annoying speedups, slowdowns, and whooshing, clunking sound effects that plague so many action movies these days — it also does Holmes a solid by breaking him out of the stuffy mold he’d been trapped in for decades. Ritchie’s Sherlock is a hybrid — half intoxicating period flick, half wisecracking buddy action thriller — and even though the elements don’t always cobble together convincingly, it should still provide a couple hours of decent kicks for anyone who isn’t obsessive about the books.
Downey is appealingly bug-eyed here, offering yet another variation on the chatterbox character directors have been asking him to deliver since The Pick-Up Artist. You’ve seen him do this shtick before — perpetually rumpled, wild-haired, yet irresistibly charming; always getting himself into seemingly impossible fixes, only to emerge unruffled and mostly unscathed. If it’s familiar, though, that’s because it’s what Downey does best, and whatever Holmes‘ flaws, it illustrates that this is a perfect role for him. By the time the inevitable sequel setup rolls around at the end, you probably won’t be doing cartwheels to see Downey and Jude Law spring back into action as Holmes and Watson, but if you’re anything like me, you won’t be turned off by the prospect, either — and in this sequel-crazy day and age, that might be all we can reasonably expect.
Downey and Law are fun to watch here, injecting layers of chemistry beneath the screenplay’s rather tired outline of their relationship (Watson is getting married and breaking up their partnership; Holmes wants him to stay but won’t say it, etc. etc. etc.) It’s kind of like Lethal Weapon with waistcoats and pocket watches, but the easy way Downey and Law relate to each other, tossing old nicknames like jabs (“old cock,” “mother hen”) and continually bailing one another out of danger, makes it all worthwhile. You also get a suitably nasty heavy in Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood, a sneering villain whose acts of dark magic are, of course, explained in a third act soliloquy delivered by Holmes. Faring less well is Rachel McAdams as the duplicitous Irene Adler, who’s supposed to be Holmes’ “one that got away” but whose distractingly hollow cheeks make you wonder why, if she’s such a good con artist, she can’t buy herself a decent meal. (You wonder if maybe Ritchie wasn’t aware of this, and that’s why he overcompensated with silly stuff like the close-up shot of McAdams crushing a pair of nuts in her hand.)
So the storyline follows a pretty predictable arc, but screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg deserve credit for adding some unexpectedly period-appropriate touches, such as the periodic reminders that many residents of 1891 London were deeply superstitious and would have been quick to believe in things like black magic. Ritchie, too, shows some surprising flair, artfully framing shots and assembling nifty fight sequences that, praise the Lord, don’t leave you squinting at the screen and wondering what the hell is going on. Does the world need the sequel we’re assuredly going to get? No, but I’d rather watch Sherlock Holmes 2 than, say, the upcoming Short Circuit reboot. It’s the little things that count.
Sherlock Holmes on Blu-ray is every bit the multimedia treat you’d expect — Ritchie’s 1890s London, even if you know it’s heavily green-screened, looks appropriately filthy, and when the movie’s big set pieces arrive, you’ll be glad for this pristine 1080p transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which provides all the immersive boom and clatter we expect from our action flicks. You don’t get a ton of added value from the bonus content, much of it presented in the so-called “Maximum Movie Mode” that takes you out of the film at various moments to give you, for instance, a few minutes of background on Irene Adler. The “Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented” featurette is basically an excuse for everyone involved in the movie to talk about how great it was to work with each other. The disc’s BD-Live features are the best of the bunch, including an online Q&A with Downey that will take place on April 1 during a “live community screening” of the film. Holmes also includes a DVD/digital copy disc, adding up to a nice bit of value for your $24.99.
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