Planned as the start of a new big-screen franchise with Robert Downey Jr. (2008's "Iron Man
") playing the intelligent, wily title detective and Jude Law (2006's "The Holiday
") as his more logic-driven partner Dr. John Watson, "Sherlock Holmes" is but a charade of confused, distressingly uninspired filmmaking. It's amazing, watching the movie drag along, dying a long, painful death (130 minutes' worth) without a modicum of energy to jumpstart it back to life. Directed by Guy Ritchie (2002's "Swept Away
") and written by first-timer Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham (2001's "Don't Say a Word
") and Simon Kinberg (2008's "Jumper
"), the picture it most uncannily resembles is "Wild Wild West
," the notorious 1999 bomb that not even Will Smith could turn into a hit. Like that film, "Sherlock Holmes" tries to be too many things at oncea comedy, an action-adventure, a thriller, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century "CSI" investigative procedural, even a romancewithout fully committing to any of them. The results are half-hearted, limp and empty, giving the viewer nothing to care or get excited about.
Set at the tail end of England's Victorian era, quirky Sherlock Holmes and trusted friend and confidante John Watson are consulting detectives who have just successfully apprehended serial killer Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), putting a believed end to his reign of terror on London. Upon being put to death, however, rumblings begin that Blackwood is alive and well, back to finish what he started. As murders start up again, the sleuth's investigation is briefly sidetracked as he becomes bewitched with sultry dame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Irene, it turns out, is being blackmailed by Blackwood, and she is all the more torn due to the true burgeoning feelings she's beginning to have for Holmes.
It's always best to look on the bright side, so here are the positive aspects of "Sherlock Holmes." The cinematography by Philippe Rousselot (2007's "Lions For Lambs
") is gritty and atmospheric, but also suitably lush, while the art direction and production design equally impress in their detail. A climactic battle atop the Tower Bridge, still under construction, is a sight to behold. And Rachel McAdams (2009's "The Time Traveler's Wife
"), otherwise squandered beyond recognition in a next-to-nothing role, has a darkly affecting moment at the end where her feelings for Holmes and her guilt over what she has done become singularly enmeshed.
Now for the negative (i.e. everything else). With vaguely drawn characters exhibiting no background history and a plot that seems to have already been set up by the time the film begins, "Sherlock Holmes" feels like a sequel (a lame one) rather than the proper beginning to a new series based on the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. At a loss for what it wants to be, the movie is never funny, despite the occasional one-liner and double-entendre; never thrilling, because the sparse action scenes are unimaginative and most definitely appear small in scale compared to recent pictures such as "2012
" and "Avatar;" and never scary, because Blackwood's evil doings are skimmed over with little of it discussed or appearing onscreen. Robert Downey Jr., coasting off of his recent successes, goes through the paces with an unusual lack of fire in his eyes. His Sherlock Holmes certainly does not have what it takes to become a well-loved film character/icon. As Watson, Jude Law looks lost and never rises above second fiddle.
Dour, slow, and with little to stimulate the mind or the emotions, "Sherlock Holmes" is a big bust. Opening on Christmas Day, the film will see few audience members still in the holiday spirit by the time they yawn their way out of the theater. There really is no excuse for how unengaging the experience is, no matter how nifty some of the early twentieth-century architecture, aided by CG enhancements, looks. Otherwise, with nothing to ponder and little of worth to think back upon and recall (even from a purely cathartic angle), what is the point? Director Guy Ritchie might ask the same question about his efforts.