For those who have watched Guy Ritchie’s career from the rollicking high of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), through various pale imitations of the same, Sherlock Holmes, which is released today, will offer few surprises. It is more of the same, though he makes up for this with higher-than-ever production values and lots of attitude. Depending on how you look at it, it is either too much or not enough to ward off the mind-numbing indifference that one feels for all the characters involved.
The Victorian London of Sherlock Holmes is splendid to behold, created from a lush palette of blacks and browns, with an occasional splash of red — ruby lips or crimson blood. Through this splendid set march a terrifically trim Robert Downey Jr., whose self-satisfaction seems too much even for an egocentric great detective and whose smarmy smugness brings to mind the worst excesses of Roger Moore’s James Bond. Jude Law’s Dr Watson has plenty of potential, but is incomprehensible as Holmes’ associate. Nothing is done with the homoerotic undercurrent that is hinted at between the two men and Law’s only function is to play the straight man to Downey’s comedian.
As a two-man comedy act, Sherlock Holmes has some amusing moments, but all the rest is like the mirror ball and fancy lights at a magic show, designed to distract the audience from the essentially meaningless activity that is taking place on screen. Holmes is portrayed as something of a flawed superhero, with a potentially interesting subplot involving the character of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), a sexy criminal who Holmes has never overcome. Minor characters such as Inspector Lestrade are used for nothing more than a plot device.
Once again, the laborious setup of various gags engages Ritchie more than any attempt to endow his characters with personalities. Attitude is more than sufficient for Ritchie, and the lavishly presented story has little more depth than a catwalk show. Downey has his Holmesian schtick down pat, but that only elicits a few snickers.
The evil genius is Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who uses mysticism as a cover for his plans to achieve ultimate power. His nefarious plot is cleverly constructed, but Ritchie misses opportunities to build tension, as the clues fall effortlessly to Holmes’ deductive powers with an ease that deprives his activity of even the semblance of intellectual prowess. There are a couple of fight scenes which, despite the use of slow motion to capture every drop of sweat, are devoid of excitement, just as a hair-breadth escape from a rotary saw in an abattoir has all the trappings of horror without even an iota of fear.
There is plenty that looks good on screen, including solid performances. Yet there is a feeling of squandered talent as the director panders to an audience who he clearly despises, feeding them the cinematic equivalent of bread and circuses.
For all that, Ritchie also sees the opportunity of a franchise, which is set up with the introduction of Professor Moriarty, who is named but never seen. Clearly we can expect Holmes to return, although given this flat-footed opening act it’s unlikely.
DIRECTED BY: GUY RITCHIE
STARRING: GUY RITCHIE
ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (SHERLOCK HOLMES), JUDE LAW (DR JOHN WATSON), RACHEL MCADAMS (IRENE ADLER), MARK STRONG (LORD BLACKWOOD), EDDIE MARSAN (INSPECTOR LESTRADE)
RUNNING TIME: 128 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: IN GENERAL RELEASE
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