Guy Ritchie can make all the superslick, ultragreasy crime movies he wants ("RocknRolla" being the most recent and one of the greasiest), but now he has given us "Sherlock Holmes," and I'm sorry but I like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters. I have no fixed notion about how they should be handled, but it's a serious drag to see how Ritchie has turned Holmes and Dr. Watson into a couple of garden-variety thugs.
People really want to see this movie. (So did I, despite the director.) The casting seems so very right. Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes; Jude Law, never entirely comfortable in contemporary stories but a pip in period settings, as Dr. Watson; Rachel McAdams as an old American flame of Holmes who gets mixed up in the plot somehow.
Sometimes, two actors share a scene, especially when they share the same frame, and you realize they were born to act together. Downey Jr. and McAdams are like that: They have similar, sparkling strains of mischief and cunning going on in their eyes. If they were in a better movie than this one, we'd really be onto something.
Set in 1890 London, Ritchie's film operates on almost pure thuggery itself. It is dependent on nervous, zero-attention-span cutting and erratically shifting film speeds, every second geared to deliver another injury to some anonymous lout's solar plexus. Ritchie treats this material no differently than he treated his debut feature, "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels."
He enjoys filming people getting kicked in the face, or getting zapped with the 1890 equivalent of the Taser, or whizzing through another speculative flash-forward sequence, as when Holmes - an egghead Charles Bronson - coolly calculates how much damage he's about to do to his opponent in the prize-fighting ring.
The story? Something to do with serial killings of sacrificial females, a hanged man apparently back from the dead, a secret society trying to rule the world and Holmes' fussy, nelly jealousy when it comes to Watson's getting married and moving out of their joint apartment.
As Conan Doyle conceived him, Holmes was indeed far more multifaceted than the Holmes we know from even the best of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce pictures, original vintage or Nazi-hunting era. He had many interests, some chemical, some physical. A wholly cerebral Holmes is nobody's idea of a good time. But this sour project is to every previous Holmes picture as the Stephen Sommers "Mummy" pictures are to the great 1932 creeper "The Mummy."
If only this cast, which includes Eddie Marsan as Lestrade of Scotland Yard, could latch onto a more interesting mystery and a more suitable director. If only Hans Zimmer's pounding score, which will make you never want to hear a waterfront-saloon piano again, ever, could somehow be voted off the finished film. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to 7-Eleven for some of those "Sherlock Holmes"-sponsored taquitos they're selling.
MPAA rating:: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material)
Cast:: Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes); Jude Law (Dr. Watson); Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler); Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood); Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade); Kelly Reilly (Mary Morstan)
Credits:: Directed by Guy Ritchie; written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg; produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin. A Warner Bros. Pictures release. Running time: 2:10