Published Dec 24, 2009Robert Downey Jr. lands himself another potential blockbuster franchise with Sherlock Holmes, in which he proves himself the perfect cerebral action hero, and is matched well with Jude Law as his faithful sidekick Watson.
Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) directs with a sensibility that's more Matrix than Masterpiece Theatre - his 19th century London, including the under construction Tower Bridge, looks more like a videogame version of 19th century England than an actual period piece. But that context fits well for this vision of Holmes as a thinking man's bare-knuckle brawler; Ritchie employs his slow-mo action tropes in dust-ups that smartly showcase Holmes's analysis (deciphering his opponent's weaknesses before delivering precise blows) over sheer brawn, and Downey Jr. does crazy intellectual better than most any A-list actor around.
Unfortunately, the story devised by a committee of writers doesn't do justice to this solid foundation. As Lord Blackwood, the head of a pseudo-mythical, Mason-like secret society, Mark Strong is the minor leagues for someone like Holmes; his primary nemesis, Professor Moriarty, is being saved for the sequel. Rachel McAdams, as a former love interest and intellectual rival to Holmes, is given too little to do, and remains peripheral to the story's primary action.
A handful of good action sequences - because Ritchie can do that well, if nothing else - still contain a trace of videogame sensibility in look and composition. Downey Jr. is really quite charming, as always, and that's enough to maintain the movie through some squishy and confusing plot sequences, hopefully long enough to get to the more focused and better-plotted, inevitable sequel. (Warner)