SHERLOCK HOLMES review
Those familiar with Doyle's practice of afflicting his star character with what was then considered unappealing character flaws (now viewed as "interesting idiosyncrasies") and a tendency toward self-destructive behavior (heroin use, etc.) should not be surprised at the casting on Downey Jr., an actor whose own story has its share of similarities. Granted, this PG-13-rated extravaganza downplays the specifics, if not the existence, of Holmes' drug habits, but the character is nonetheless realized as a hard-living eccentric with a sharply edged personality and a cutting sense of humor. If it sounds like Downey Jr. is dipping into the same bag of tricks he used to make Tony Stark such a memorable character, you've deduced correctly. But I for one will happily forgive any similarities, as this sort of thing is what the actor does so well. This Holmes manages to be magnetically likable while also being emotionally manipulative to those he cares about most. (Particularly the always put-upon, yet ever-loyal assistant Dr. Watson, as played by Jude Law.)
What Guy Ritchie's vision of Holmes may lack in the director's own trademark visual bravura is made up for in sheer confidence of the overall execution. This is by far the largest film he's taken on, and is being carefully watched in terms of whether or not he is to be validated as a credible director of blockbusters. Ritchie's fans should not be let down, as he manages to imbue at least a few of the many fight scenes with his characteristic visual aplomb. But more importantly, he has proven that he is not the one-trick pony that so many have assumed. But all that said, no can ever forget that this is the Robert Downey Jr. show, and rightfully so.
The story involves a secret society and a super-natural wave of murders. It would've been nice to see the film grapple a little bit more with the rising humanism of the age versus the threat of dark magic, but as it stands, the plot works as well as it needs to. (I recommend not attempting to play audience-member detective with this movie - this is not about the puzzle of the mystery so much as the ride it presents. Best to enjoy it on that level, as it is clearly intended.) Holmes, down and out while in-between official cases, flits from one suspect to another, finding trouble at every turn but never making any money. In that sense, it's kind of like a big-budget Victorian era episode of "Moonlighting", complete with the crackling dialogue and a charismatic male lead. But for many, what will set this "Holmes" apart from the many, many other filmed versions (Sherlock Holmes ranks with Dracula as the most filmed characters of all time) is the way Ritchie's Holmes applies his unsurpassed skills of deductive reasoning to his jaw-cracking, kinetic fight scenes.
Similarities aside, it would not be disappointing if Robert Downey Jr. spent the rest of his career ping-ponging between making new "Sherlock Holmes" and "Iron Man" movies. As for Guy Ritchie, it will be very interesting to see where he goes from here. His "Sherlock Holmes" is a bona-fide crowd pleaser in the best sense, and is, of course, built for sequels - so "Sherlock Holmes II" wouldn't be a bad move. This movie comes together if not so much like a fine mystery, then certainly as a witty crime-caper with the occasional brutal dust-up. Through it all, the true spirit of Doyle's Holmes remains present. I for one am happy to have deduced incorrectly about this film prior to seeing it, and look forward to seeing it again.
- Jim Tudor