By Roger Moore
In Guy Ritchie’s version, the detective is a man of action.
Dr. Watson and the lads from Scotland Yard load their pistols en route to a raid. Our hero, who has gotten there well ahead of them thanks to his parkour (climbing/clambering) skills, kicks the door down, “Dirty Harry” style.
This is not your great grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes. Guy Ritchie has turned the cerebral pipe-smoker into a Victorian England James Bond, ripped and ready for action. He still has those intense powers of observation, still has the fiddle (though he doesn’t play it), still has his little drug habit.
And he still says, “The game’s afoot.”
But Ritchie yanks Holmes out of drawing rooms and hurls him into the muddy streets of 1880s London in pursuit of a villain he thought he’d caught and seen hanged. And Holmes matches wits with an American con artist named Irene (Rachel McAdams) who once outwitted him and stole his heart.
Robert Downey Jr. has fun with this latest foray into comic-book action, and Holmes’ banter with Watson (Jude Law) is droll and witty, an exchange of equals, not the way that relationship is traditionally played. This Watson is as two-fisted as Holmes, an Army vet about to marry and leave their cluttered 221-B Baker St. digs behind.
Their quarry — an English lord with a gift for the black arts (Mark Strong, of “Rock’n Rolla”) who bewitches minds, sacrifices girls and apparently rises from the grave after the cops (Eddie Marsan is Inspector Lestrade) escort him to the gallows.
Strong has great menace and mystery about him (he’d have made a great Holmes), and McAdams makes a playful foil for our hero. But it is Downey’s eyes, always processing information, and his quirky way with a line that sell this.
“Data, data data. I cannot make breakthroughs without data.”
Ritchie delivers PG-13 action (a first for him) and lots of atmosphere in between brawls and shootouts. But the script-by-committee unravels in a “Wild Wild West”/”League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” load of techno-hooey by the finale.
As much fun as it is to watch Downey as Holmes plan and narrate his every punch in a fight and deduce his way to solutions, they may have to take another crack at this “franchise” to really get it right. This one feels somewhat “elementary.”