Robert Downey Jr.’s entrance in the opening minute of “Sherlock Holmes”—he leaps off a buttress, effortlessly rolls down a set of stairs stopping just in time for the camera to catch his close-up—suggests that this isn’t your father’s—or your grandfather’s or mom’s or anybody else’s—Sherlock Holmes. The ensuing kung fu battle and satanic ritual confirms it.
Set in 1891 the story centers on Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law), doctor, war veteran and best friend, getting to the bottom of a case involving the supernatural, an ex-flame (Rachel McAdams) of the great detective, The House of Lords and deadly cult leader named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). It plays like Holmes meets “The DaVinci Code.”
With “Sherlock Holmes” director Guy Ritchie has created the darkest movie of the Christmas season. Mimicking the depressing fog and industrial smoke that colored Victorian London, he’s made a drab and dreary looking movie that never met a shade of gray it didn’t like. That would be fine if the story or the performances added some color to the film, but unfortunately for Holmes (and for the audience) not only is “Sherlock Holmes’s” color palate a bit monochromatic but the whole film is a little on the dull side.
The story is suitably convoluted for a Holmes story, there is plenty of intrigue, much deducing and loads of clues, trouble is, nothing much happens. The game may be a-foot but it feels more like a loose collection of action sequences bound together by some witty “Odd Couple” style banter between the leads and Downey’s quirky performance.
Downey plays Holmes like a cross between Robert Langdon and a Victorian street urchin. Apparently being brilliant means you don’t have to wash. Or tuck your shirt in. Or shave or clean your fingernails. Downey throws out the image of the debonair Basil Rathbone Holmes in a deerstalker hat for something much more bohemian. In fact, it’s closer to the description of the detective offered up in Conan Doyle’s books and short stories. Downey plays the role with suitable gusto (and acceptable English accent), but is let down by a script that is a non-starter.
Downey has good chemistry with Jude Law but the same can’t be said for Rachel McAdams as his love interest. Guy Ritchie isn’t known for his way with female characters and “Sherlock Holmes” and she suffers for it. The movie wastes McAdams in a damsel in distress role that requires her to do little other than leer in Holmes’s general direction. She’s more a plot point than a character and it’s a shame to see McAdams wasted like that. She gets lost in the über-maleness of it all.
“Sherlock Holmes” gets the spirit of Holmes but doesn’t deliver the goods. Big budget action scenes are sprinkled throughout, but even the huge set pieces like the fight in the shipyard—which must have cost a fortune—contains no drama and the only real mystery here is how Guy Ritchie managed to take good elements—like Robert Downey Jr and Sherlock Holmes, one of the most popular characters of the last one hundred years—and make such a lackluster movie.