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Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

January 1, 2010

It’s one of the better trends in Hollywood lately– the re-imagining of famous characters, movies or TV shows. The Batman and Star Trek series are shining examples of how it’s been mostly done right. Even the most recent Friday the 13th franchise reboot was done well, bringing the Jason character back to his more sinister roots as opposed to the cartoon character he was turning into (ala Freddy Kreuger). Sherlock Holmes is sort of the odd man out, a movie that gets more wrong than it does right, even though what’s right here is done well.

What went wrong? Unfortunately, it’s a story with a script that winds up being too clever for its own good. When the movie starts, ultra-heightened-senses-super-sleuth Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has already solved the case of occultist Lord Blackwood, the trial resulting in his conviction and execution by hanging. With Dr. Watson (Jude Law) pronouncing him dead, Blackwood is buried, only to rise from the grave later with a sinister plan: a killing spree that would ultimately see the deaths of Parliament members and, eventually, a take-over of the world (yes, another take over the world mastermind).  The realization that Blackwood has seemingly risen from the dead has London in a panic, bringing out a second nemesis who wants Blackwood dead for his own reasons. The concept that looks so good on paper becomes bogged down, crushed by the movie’s own length and the desire to be too intelligent. The movie revels in the big reveals: how Sherlock Holmes came to his conclusions. Unfortunately, it spends too much time in “wait for it” mode, meandering and mostly going nowhere. When Holmes reveals how he came to his conclusions, it becomes more of an exercise in “are you kidding me” and “oh, come on.” Imagine MacGuyver-ing your clues in order to solve your mystery. His deductive skills went far beyond Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, stretching way past the threshold of remote believability. The movie almost needs to take us for fools in asking us to believe that’s how he came to his conclusions. When it keeps happening, you just sit back and watch, not even bothering to attempt in trying to figure anything out first.

What went right? While Jude Law’s portrayal of Dr. Watson was spot on, it was Downey’s complete overhaul of the Sherlock Holmes character that makes this one of the few reasons to watch. This isn’t your great grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes. This Sherlock Holmes is a reclusive, bad hygene besot eccentric with groom-to-be Dr. Watson as his only friend. If it weren’t for his own intelligence, Holmes would be more likely to accidentally kill himself.  He’s also skilled in the martial arts. Not only will he karate chop you into submission, he’ll know in advance precisely what each shot is capable of doing, and what the combined effect will be. Given Holmes’ wit and eccentricities, Downey’s version bears more of a resemblance to his portrayal of Tony Stark in Iron Man than that of a super sleuth.

If you went in expecting a traditional telling of a Sherlock Holmes story, you were probably more likely to be disappointed. At the same time, if you went in looking for a highly entertaining, hipper version of Sherlock Holmes, you were probably equally likely to be disappointed as well. Cut twenty or so minutes, even with the wild stretches, and you might have something. As it stands, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, particularly the chemistry between the two, is the movie’s only saving grace. Let’s hope the script for the impending sequel winds up being much better than this one.

Two out of five stars

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