Sherlock Holmes (2009)
128 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B -
If you're a purist, Guy Ritchie's 21st century update of Arthur Conan Doyle's 19th century egghead sleuth is not your grandfather's cerebral Sherlock Holmes. He's an obsessive-compulsive eccentric with a sarcastic wit and a scientific mind, not to mention a kickboxer with six-pack abs. Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect fit as Holmes and shares a jokey “bromance” chemistry with Jude Law, playing Dr. John Watson as a nicely understated straight man. Their riffing is a good lot of fun and is about as close it gets to refinement.
Oh, what's the story you ask? There's some business with a shady villain known as Lord Blackwood, who's been sacrificing women with dark magic, hanged, and then mysteriously rising from the grave. Mark Strong, a kind of Andy Garcia with Dracula's slicked-back do, is menacing enough as Blackwood, but the supernatural mystery at stake is much less than elementary.
Despite some snappy repartee, the first half hour grinds like quick sand. But once it gets going, it really gets going, and Ritchie's kinetic, greasy, aggressively in-your-face directorial style throws a lot our way. Most of it sticks in an alternately exhausting and enjoyable sort of popcorn-movie way. 1890, London has never look so well-produced and grimy at the same time, and right as the Warner Bros. logo comes on, Hans Zimmer's piano score couldn't sound more suitable. The slo-mo device of playing back Holmes' deductive reasoning is clever, and some of the noisy action is fun and amusing. Rachel McAdams is fetching and spunky, showing up as Holmes' former flame, Irene, whose loyalties are suspicious but still harbors feelings for her old lover, but there's very little to her throwaway role.
This "Sherlock Holmes" feels like a sequel rather than the introductory entry of a franchise and goes on as long as a "Mummy" movie. But as slick, empty entertainment that escapes your memory after it's over, "Sherlock Holmes" comes out ahead as the kind of summery ride not released in the summer.