High Concept Holmes

SHERLOCK HOLMES
(Dir. Guy Ritchie, 2009)

The recreation of the career of Robert Downey Jr. as a bankable action hero continues with this expensive explosive epic that re-casts Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character as, well, a bankable action hero. It’s a conceit that works grandly for considerable chunks of Guy Ritchie’s period production, but an unfortunate feeling remains that such a literary icon as Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be shoehorned into James Bondian conventions or Indiana Jones-ish set-piece progressions.

The thinking behind this is understandable (or elementary) – who wants to see stiff sitting room scenes filled with exposition? Audiences want high octane action and that’s what they’re going to get here. Holmes was a martial arts master in Doyle’s books and short stories so that’s an element Ritchie and Downey Jr. run with. Through stylized breakdowns of his fighting strategies we get into Holmes’ head blow by blow. However the attempts to get into his head clue by clue are less successful.

The movie begins with Holmes and trusty sidekick Watson (Jude Law) preventing a human sacrifice by the dark treacherous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Though Blackwood is jailed and sentenced to death, he still inspires fear with threatening prophecies of terror that he’ll orchestrate from beyond the grave. 3 days after he’s hanged and pronounced dead by Watson, he appears to have torn through the walls of his tomb and is back among the living. Holmes is, of course, back on his trail with distractions such as Rachel McAdams as the infamous Irene Adler and Watson’s bromance blocking bride to be (Kelly Reilly) muddying up the waters.

Muddy is apt for it’s a muddled mess of a mystery – a fast paced muddle, but a muddle all the same. For most moviegoers it won’t matter as there is fun to be had with Downey Jr.’s almost contagious satisfied smirk of a performance. His accent is much the same as it was in CHAPLIN (that is – not very convincing but still adequate) and his jovial demeanor does much to carry the film through dark passages dealing with black magic and a perplexing plot to overthrow Parliament. Law doesn’t make much of an impression as he just seems to be along for the ride and his fiancée subplot could be dropped completely with no complaints. Strong’s steely faced Blackwood is a worthy adversary, but his evil plans fail to fascinate making the murky mechanics of the third act bog down the proceedings.

Its ending obviously broadcasts that SHERLOCK HOLMES wants to be the first of a franchise, club sandwiched between IRONMAN efforts, primed for event movie seasons but I pray that it’s a one off. Downey Jr. is one of the most capable and interesting actors working today, but I fear his hipster appeal will make for major miscasting in future famous icon reboots: Robert Downey Jr. as Tarzan/The Shadow/Buck Rogers/etc. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but as much as I enjoyed particular parts of this film and would like to write it off as pure escapism, I couldn’t quite escape the notion that it’s a glorified waste.

More later…

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