Sherlock Holmes is a blockbuster action-adventure flick with style, style and style, lots of whooshing cameras, freeze-frames followed by super slo-mo flashbacks and flash forwards and a bombastic Hans Zimmer score. Director Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) is known for style, style and style, impressive gritty (and stylish) sets, well-staged fights, loads of banter, great casting and convoluted plots that really don't matter all that much. This time he has more money and you see every cent. The other differences from his previous work are that he focuses on fewer characters this time, offers fewer digressions with the colorful supporting players and uses more computer generated imagery.
Robert Downey Jr. plays buff super-sleuth bad boy Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law plays his equally studly, but more stable partner Dr. Watson, who clucks over Holmes' antics while always standing by his man. There are two females, Kelly Reilly as Watson's fiancée and Rachel McAdams as "the only woman ever to have bested Holmes." They are included primarily to remind viewers that, despite the bitchy homoerotic relationship between the boys, Holmes and Watson are indeed straight.
The visuals are impressive and the action scenes engaging, but the further we went into the slightly-over-two-hours production, the more restless I became. I grew tired of the squabbling between Holmes and Watson. Mostly, I was annoyed with Downey's take on Holmes. The actor plays the bad boy hero by combining seemingly nutty behavior with glib chatter and a deadpan expression. Downey coasted through many a film, and numerous talk show appearances, by saying outrageous things while remaining expressionless. It's cutesy, one-note and a lazy way to get attention. Of course, it still works, but damn, Downey is talented enough to go beyond shtick.
This marks the first Guy Ritchie film I've seen where some of the scenes in-between the set pieces were boring. I've never minded Ritchie's visual clutter or haphazard storytelling, - in fact I kind of got a kick out of it — but his other films spent more time with colorful supporting characters. This film has colorful supporting characters, but aside from put-upon Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade (well played by Eddie Marsan), we don't get much time with them. Instead, it's glib deadpan Holmes, annoyed but devoted Watson and the girls. Not enough.
The film repeatedly makes a big to-do revealing Holmes' amazing powers of observation and deduction. While that's certainly true to the character, I wonder if Ritchie and company took into consideration the fact that TV screens are swimming with shows about charismatic oddballs with amazing powers of observation and deduction? When the movie started showing Holmes' thought processes through stylishly presented effects-filled scenes, my initial thought was, "Oh, that's like when Charlie explains his latest math thingie on Numb3rs."
What's the bottom line? As blockbusters go, Sherlock Homes is entertaining enough. Just don't expect anything meaty. And if you like the movie, check out one of Guy Ritchie's other films and see how well he works with less money.