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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reviews by Hubie Goode: Sherlock Holmes


Holmes : Robert Downey Jr.
Watson : Jude Law
Lord Blackwood : Mark Strong
Irene Adler : Rachel McAdams
Mary : Kelly Reilly

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Guy Ritchie. Written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg. Based on the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Running time: 128 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material).

Considering Sherlock Holmes, it might be best not to expect to see the classical version. In this incarnation, he and Watson are more Batman and Robin than the old school vision of intellectual genius and his nervous yet doting side kick. This is a much more physical oriented contrivance here filled with a few cartoon type characters and wild, comic book type moments of tense action peril. Today’s audience will love it. Those with a purist stance will not.

The usual “true to form” Holmes is a stickler for his “religious” routine. Bad guys and the convoluted case load comes and goes up the walk of 221 B Baker St., but within his tower of solitude, Holmes always remains the same. In this exterior of jolly old London, the city is grey and greenish like the advertising colors would suggest. London is dirty and bereft of aesthetic beauty, but this allows for all the more color to be displayed by Robert Downey Jr., as Holmes himself.

In this version Watson is no longer the nervous nelly who is fascinated with Holmes’ every move. He now is an “odd couple” roommate who has decided to marry a woman named Mary, much to Holmes’ shock and awe. After all, surely he himself, is more than enough to keep Watson from needing any other life except to stand by and watch his borderline “Rain man” operations. Well, that’s not entirely fair, Watson does more than simply stand by and watch, he too is more than capable of handling the fisticuffs and near death experiences that inevitably follow Holmes. In fact, he may be a little addicted to those experiences himself. The problem for Watson is that he doesn’t posses the wide open mental presence of Holmes, who seems aware of everything around him, even the odds of multiple futures for current events. A heady drug to witness and forget for sure.

Downey does a great job of presenting us with a Holmes who is borderline insane, but never goes over the edge; no doubt due to the immense power he has of handling his own hyper mind. A feat in itself. What, no Jackson Pollack paintings? He is also a great fighter, who can plan his next seven punches and kicks in his mind with lightning fast administration quickly followed with pinpoint accuracy a moment later in the real world. His ability to predict the eventual outcome of a recently imagined fight just before it happens, and then to pull it off without a hitch, is just plain otherworldly.

Satanist, Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, is the bad guy here, and he is foiled by Holmes in a devil sacrifice in the opening of the film, with grand fashion. His character is sent to the gallows and hung, only to return in a sensationalized resurrection of sorts. The begins a series of events not unlike the old Batman series where Holmes must outwit Blackwood’s “peril setups” on the way to the final big scene. One of these scenes is so “Batman”, the old 60’s Batman that is, that it had me smiling and waiting for the echoed laughter of a far off Joker.

The heroine, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), is captured by Blackwood and hung by her wrists to a conveyor belt in a slaughter house. She can’t be removed for some reason, and before her are the subsequent skinned carcasses of pigs that are about to be sectioned in two by a long buzz saw at the end of the line. We watch in tense amazement-excitement as Holmes and Watson spring into action to stop the conveyor belt before it reaches our fetching heroine, who by the way is very very fetching. Naturally, of course, the tension is heightened as one by one the pig carcasses are sliced into two parts, first one then the next one and as they slice apart our hanging heroine is closer and closer to sure Hollywood horror film death. Will Holmes and Watson find a way to save her??? Will they do it just at the last second??? You tell me.

Many of the scenes are old school like this and they seem retreaded for the modern audience, sugar coated by Downey’s performance, who seems to know what kind of hero audiences are drawn to these days. There is even a final battle scene above the city on London bridge, which isn’t quite falling down yet but is in the middle of being built. Sword fights and Karate ensue, along with more and more peril. But Holmes is never quite moved by all of this, except perhaps by Adler herself, but then who could blame him?

I did find some of his mental configuring to be a bit of a stretch and the movie makers put him in an uncomfortable position at one point due to this stretching, which was a nice touch. I refer to the dinner scene with Watson’s betrothed. But when he sees Moriarity for the first time, he notices chalk on Moriarity’s lapel and deduces that he is indeed a professor. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Good thing he doesn’t play pool at the local billiards room.” I know when I play, I get chalk all over my hands, and this doesn’t make me a professor.

The Conan Doyle stories created a magical mental giant and Downey now gives us the same man with pecs and Jacki Chan fighting skills. In a time when everything is being re-created for a new audience, this is no big surprise, the pursuit of capital inevitably leads down this road, especially with proven concepts. Nothing is sacred anymore, as long as we can re-do it and make the subsequent financial gain. It’s in one sense a sad thing to see, but in another sense, when your core audience for almost all entertainment these days doesn’t go far beyond 22 years, it is logically a sign of the times.

4 out of 5 stars

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