Watching the detectives

Sherlock Holmes

Iron Man is back and <i>this</i> time … oh, wait … nevermind.

Iron Man is back and this time … oh, wait … nevermind.

Rated 3.0

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 super 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 Dr. Watson, in what turns out to be his best screen time in quite a while, is former megastar Jude Law. The two actors prove to be a winning combination, and while the mystery sometimes feels more Scooby Doo than Arthur Conan Doyle, the action set pieces are so good they overcome any scripting shortfalls.

The film’s opening is a blast, with Holmes racing through the dark streets of London trying 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, where we see and hear Holmes planning every blow he lands on his opponent 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!—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 the heck is going on, but a more pressing matter involves Watson’s impending marriage. Holmes, not wanting to lose his brother in sleuthing and roomie, 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 Jr. and Law make it all rather sweet and funny.

By the time the mystery had played out, I found myself more interested in the way Sherlock Holmes hit people than his solving of mysteries. He hits people real good, and that’s certainly worth plenty in your average mega-millions redo of a famous guy who used to simply wear a funny hat and act all smart. The new Holmes has impressive Rambo qualities to go with inquisitive powers.

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

Ritchie, a director who has largely been hit (Snatch) or miss (the awful Madonna vehicle Swept Away) up until now, 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, cinematography and an excellent score from Hans Zimmer.

Strong delivers a fair share of 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. She just seems a little overmatched this time out. Law brings a nice amount of mischief and grouchiness to Watson, making him much more than your average sidekick.

The greatest reason to see Sherlock Holmes is Downey Jr. rocking the house, and his wonderful interplay with Law. While the story isn’t quite up to the strengths of the performers, you probably won’t care because the performers are really good. I left Sherlock Holmes more than happy with the prospect of sequels and future Downey Jr. vs. Law bickering.