Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material, 128 minutes
"Sherlock Holmes" entertaining, stylish but dumbed-down version of the classic story
It's no mystery that the new "Sherlock Holmes" was going to be a fun movie, after all it's directed by Guy Ritchie ("RocknRolla") and stars "IronMan's" Robert Downey Jr. and the suave Jude Law. On that level, the new adaptation of "Sherlock Holmes" delivers: it's entertaining, stylish fun with a cheeky turn by Downey as the celebrated British detective. Ritchie's energetic direction gives the film some heft, adding some largely unnecessary action set pieces that greatly simplify the story but still should draw in many younger fans to the classic tale.
After finally catching serial killer and occult "sorcerer" Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Downey) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Jude Law) can close yet another successful case. But when Blackwood mysteriously returns from the grave and resumes his killing spree, Holmes must take up the hunt once again. Contending with his partner's new fiancée (Kelly Reilly) and the dimwitted head of Scotland Yard, the dauntless detective must unravel the clues that will lead him into a twisted web of murder, deceit, and black magic - and the deadly embrace of temptress Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).
Ritchie's interpretation of "Sherlock Holmes" is a lively but sometimes messy one, filled with some interesting addition to Doyle's original characters, including his fighting and martial arts abilities, something that's largely inferred in the novels. The flaws with Ritchie's other films, including "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels," particularly with an uneven, busy narrative flow and an overload on style, are considerably less noticeable here. The problematic, noisy first half-hour reminds of Ritchie's other efforts, but it finally settles down into an involving story though if you pay attention, it's not really a huge mystery.
Downey is, as usual, tremendous fun as the unorthodox crime solver, though he gives one of his most self-aware performances in ages while Law makes for a jolly sidekick and a slimmer Watson that most interpretations. Of the three main stars, the pretty McAdams is the weakeast and underused in what's really a small, non-essential role. Strong is a slimy, memorable villain and British character actor Eddie Marsan has a couple of good scenes as an Inspector.
This "Sherlock Holmes" is designed for the masses: lots of explosions, some fighting and a climactic chase scene. Ritchie's stylistic visuals and first-rate production are impressive, particularly the detailed sets and costumes, which carefully evoke the late 19th century. Ritchie's (more famously known as Madonna's ex) hollow storytelling, as with his other films, is the chief flaw, and his interpreation is far more simplistic than other versions. Sure, the explosions and action are fun and drip with style, but Holmes is a strong and enjoyable enough character without them, and Ritchie plays down the witty, clever crime-solving in favor of the action set pieces.
Downey is well-suited for the role and if this is a big hit, which it likely will be, there may be a series of films ahead with him in the title role. "Sherlock Holmes" is an enjoyable, likable and fast-paced, if not dumbed-down interpretation of a classic story, and literary purists may not like it, though even they'll leave entertained.