If only we could all be as lucky as Guy Ritchie. That whole marriage to Madonna thing aside, the man has led a fairly charmed life and one that seemingly is continuing to tick upwards. After churning out an oeuvre that would leave any respectable filmmaker blushing Warner Brothers decided to turn over the keys to their surefire Christmas blockbuster, Sherlock Holmes, and its accompanying $90 million budget. What, was Uwe Boll busy?
With that king of money Ritchie does exactly what one might expect in doing away immediately with all things Arthur Conan Doyle (not that that is necessarily a bad thing), in an effort to tickle the viewer in trying to pass off a subpar story told in a dreadful manner. Take away the characters names and you would never know that this was supposed to be a Sherlock Holmes movie. However, you would have a pretty good shot at guessing the director. Why we are all of a sudden supposed to take that director seriously as some sort of mainstream Hollywood guy is the real mystery here?
Instead of borrowing from a book by Doyle the writers choose to simply borrow heavily from Angels and Demons. They, of course, reconfigured it for 1891 England but we are still left with our hero, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), and his ambiguously gay friend Watson (Jude Law) chasing the reptilian Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) through the city streets, always arriving just a little too late to stop some murder which serves to advance Blackwood's plot at world domination.
Holmes is updated a little and here he is an eccentric recluse with a real knack for outsmarting the locals, who also dabbles in bare knuckled brawling and supplements his income by betting on himself. Downey Jr. relies a little too much on his good looks and charms but does a decent job though too many lines are mumbled and incoherent. The other leads, Jude Law and Rachel McAdams, work hard to turn in quality performances but if they had dreams of saving this adaptation then they were fighting a losing battle.
But even more outrageous than Ritchie's directing is the script, seemingly written by committee, which is a cynical and lazy attempt to prove that people will watch anything with brand recognition on Christmas. Blatantly attempting to razzle-dazzle us with wit Holmes only manages to hit the target once or twice, opting instead for a Sixth Sense style flashback so that we can all feel silly for not having caught on sooner, only these guys don't deserve to play this card.
Their clues are so obscure and hidden that keeping up is literally impossible. The one scene that really works involves a fight to the death between Holmes and Dredger (Robert Maillet), one of Balckwood's oversized cronies, that, with a lot of help from special effects, zooms along and provides that sense of wonder that is found nowhere else. This film, like the rest of Ritchie's, is all surface, but at least for those five minutes or so you won't be yearning for anything deeper.
The failure of this Christmas tent pole is rather disappointing, especially when you consider that the story being told had true potential. Blackwell is put to death for using the dark arts to kill shapely young females only to pull a Jesus and return from the grave more powerful than ever. But never are we really given anything to care about and all of the action seems to exist without consequence. At one unfortunate point Watson walks into a trap of bombs that all go off around him, two scenes later he is walking around like nothing had happened.
We all know that Doyle's characters were toughened up to impress modern audiences but that is really taking things a bit too far. Warner Bros was probably too busy smoothing out Ritchie's rough edges - gone are the extreme violence and humorously thick accents - to notice something like that. However, they managed to botch even that as they gave him Carte Blanche to leave his fart jokes strewn all over the place. But if we insist on giving Sherlock Holmes credit for something then we can concede that this film does have personality, the problem is that it is just not a very likeable one.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Director: Guy Ritchie
Distributor: Warner Bros