Packing a Punch 

Downey and Law are so great that you'll gladly overlook the shortcomings of 'Sherlock Holmes'

Robert Downey Jr. dives into yet another iconic role as the title character in Sherlock Holmes, director Guy Ritchie's inventive, sometimes exhilarating take on the classic sleuth.

While the famous detective still puffs on his pipe, he's now a badass street fighter with major self-esteem issues and a dark sense of humor. He's also a really lousy roommate.

Joining Downey Jr. as Watson—in what turns out to be his best role in quite a while—is former megastar-on-the-rise Jude Law. The two prove to be a winning combination; although the mystery sometimes feels more Scooby-Doo than Arthur Conan Doyle, the action set pieces are so good that they overcome any scripting shortfalls.

The opening is a blast, with Holmes racing through the dark streets of London as he tries to prevent the sacrifice of a young lady at the hands of the evil Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, speaking in very ominous tones). After a rather awesome fight scene—during which we see and hear Holmes plan every blow he will land on his nemesis before the action plays out exactly as he predicts—Blackwood is incarcerated and put to death by hanging.

In some ways, Blackwood is this film's Lord Voldemort. (Hey, they both have the same first name!) He's a potentially supernatural force that returns from the grave to wreak havoc on government types and terrorize the city streets. Holmes is determined to find out what in the heck is going on, but Watson's impending marriage becomes a more pressing matter. Holmes—not wanting to lose his roommate and brother in sleuthing—does his best to convince his partner that his lady might not be right for him. This sort of thing could be very mundane, but Downey and Law make it rather sweet and funny.

By the time the mystery had played out, I found myself more interested in the way Holmes hit people than his mystery-solving capabilities. He hits people impressively, which is intriguing, seeing as the guy used to just wear a funny hat and act all smart. The new Holmes has Rambo qualities to go with his inquisitive powers.

Downey, as he did with Tony Stark in Iron Man, gives his action hero an intriguing emotional core. As always, he has impeccable comic timing and an uncanny ability to capture accents. His British accent here puts other big Hollywood actors who attempted accents this year to shame. That's right, Matt Damon (Invictus) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education)—Downey owns you in Accent Land!

Ritchie, a director who has largely been hit (Snatch) or miss (the awful Madonna vehicle Swept Away), delivers his most confident bit of filmmaking to date. It doesn't hurt that he has one of the best damn actors in the business at his disposal. Helping things along are astoundingly good art direction and cinematography, and an excellent score from Hans Zimmer.

Strong delivers ample menace as Blackwood, although he feels a bit like villains we've seen many times before. If the movie has a weak link, it's the normally reliable Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, Holmes' mysterious love interest; McAdams seems a little overmatched this time out. Law brings a nice amount of mischief and grouchiness to Watson, making him much more than an average sidekick.

The greatest reasons to see Sherlock Holmes are Downey and his wonderful interplay with Law. While the story isn't quite up to the strength of its performers, you probably won't care, because the performers are wonderful. I left Sherlock Holmes more than happy with the prospect of sequels.

Sherlock Holmes
Rated PG-13 · 128 minutes · 2009
Official Site: sherlock-holmes-movie.warnerbros.com
Director: Guy Ritchie
Producer: Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Michael Tadross and Bruce Berman
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly and James Fox

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What others are saying (6)

Charleston City Paper Guy Ritchie gives Sherlock Holmes a 21st century makeover Sherlock Holmes is one of the all-time great fictional characters. He is impossibly Byronic and impervious to the charms of the fairer sex; impossibly misanthropic, what with his disdain for almost everyone in the world but his assistant, Watson; and impossibly brilliant, what with his near-psychic ability to pin down the past, present, and sometimes future of total strangers based merely on the state of their wardrobe. by MaryAnn Johanson 12/23/2009
The Coast Halifax Ritchie keeps Sherlock Holmes elementary Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law provide a 19th century spin on modern comedy bromances. by Mark Palermo 12/24/2009
Memphis Flyer Sherlock Holmes, Action Hero. by Greg Akers 12/24/2009
3 more reviews...
Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel; Sherlock Holmes; Nine; It's Complicated 12/24/2009
Arkansas Times The game’s afoot! It’s almost a given that someone is going to be horrified by the end product any time a filmmaker takes on a beloved fictional character and tries to bring him to three-dimensional life — Batman, Frodo and Gandalf, et al. by David Koon 12/31/2009
Colorado Springs Independent To Sir, with love Though director Guy Ritchie's adaptation has more in common with the director's other films than with the Holmes of Conan Doyle's stories, the spirit of Holmes remains thoroughly intact. by MaryAnn Johanson 12/24/2009

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