Friday, December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes as Action Hero

Action Specialists Guy Ritchie and Joel Silver Re-invent British Sleuth

Lock, stock, and smoking Sherlock Holmes?

Robert Downey, Jr. brings his Iron Man swagger to the tweedy, intellectual role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant super-sleuth, under the direction of British action specialist Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) and American mega-producer Joel Silver.

This Sherlock is a master of martial arts as well as mystery-solver. He still smokes a pipe but he also wields a pistol and nunchucks.

Holmes shares bachelor quarters at 21 Baker Street with his mild-mannered best friend Dr. Watson, underplayed nicely by Jude Law. Watson has been upgraded too in co-producer Lionel Wigran’s original story. No bumbler this Watson, he engages in fisticuffs alongside Holmes and handles a gun expertly like the ex-soldier he is.

Dr. Watson is engaged to Mary (Kelly Reilly), a freckled Irish lass, and he already is in early stages of being henpecked.

Clearly Mary sees Holmes as a threat or perhaps even rival for Watson’s affections; a situation Downey has joked about on the David Letterman Show.

The show begins- and it is a show- with an eleventh-hour saving of a human sacrifice to some kind of black art ceremony.

Behind the scheme is malevolent Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), an imperious villain with greasy slicked back hair and affection for large capes.

Blackwood is sentenced to hang, and hang he does. Dr. Watson verifies he has no pulse.

But in a warped parody of the Resurrection, Blackwood turns up very much alive, after his corpse is discovered to be that of another man.

Blackwood is head sorcerer for something called the Temple of the Four Orders, and it is his evil plan to wrest power from Parliament and install his own minions: hiss, boo!

Subtle this new Sherlock Holmes is not. The movie is so loaded with computer-generated special effects it is more a super hero fantasy than traditional British mystery.

But the computer-enhanced 1891 London looks great (North Manchester, England, and Brooklyn, New York provided some of the locations), and Downey and Law have a nice rapport.

Rachel McAdams is a luscious damsel-in-distress; a woman so smart she has outwitted Holmes twice, and Eddie Marsan provides solid support as the supportive, incorruptible Inspector Lestrade.

This amped-up Sherlock Holmes is no threat to Conan Doyle’s original, or even Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s popular collaborations in the 1930s and 1940s, but it is neat to have Britain’s greatest sleuth introduced to a new, attention-deficit generation. By the looks of the finale, there will be sequels.

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