movies: Holmes and Watson back on the big screen..........
Sherlock doesn’t have a clue, writes Kyle Smith of The New York Post
AFRILLY Victorian lady effortlessly hurls an assassin out the window of a moving train. ‘‘I think it’s time you should leave!’’ she says, just before he plummets into the, er, leaves of the trees below.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is so moron-friendly they should have called it Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Checkers. The skill level in the script is elementary school, my dear Watson.
The filmmakers have elected to grab the name of one of popular literature’s most enduring heroes and paste a completely different character on him. Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes, meant to be ‘‘fun’’ and ‘‘contemporary’’, is a fey Ritalin case, a whirling kickboxer, blathery trivia-blurter and deliverer of woeful wisecracks.
He’s like an aggressively eccentric Johnny Depp creation meets Jackie Chan with wit by Steven Seagal.
The movie’s idea of a great joke is for Holmes to call his even smarter brother Mycroft ‘‘Mikey,’’ while the latter (Stephen Fry, a boyhood fan of Arthur Conan Doyle whose self-hatred must be limitless about now) calls Sherlock ‘‘Shirley’’. Another joke, the sole reason for a scene that limps on for a minute or two, is the presentation of Fry naked. But this is tragic, not comic.
Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) are exploring a series of anarchist bombings that seem to be fomenting war between France and Germany, and the fomenter in chief is Professor Moriarty.
This ur-supervillain is played by the middling actor Jared Harris, so early rumours Brad Pitt would play the role are now but a plangent reminder of the larger failed promise – not to mention a sign of super taste on Pitt’s part.
It’s 1891, when, at a stag party for Watson, Holmes stumbles upon a gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace, the star of the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) whose brother is a radical tied to the bombings. Assassins plague Watson’s honeymoon train, which occasions an absurd action scene (with Downey in girls’ clothes and blue eye shadow) punctuated with even worse dialogue. After a machinegun blasts holes in a series of walls, Holmes tells his sidekick it’s ‘‘your window of opportunity’’.
For a dedicated foe of crime, Sherlock seems awfully blase about any casualties that might result from the hundreds of rounds of bullets fired on the train. Instead he smirks and clowns and grapples with Watson, who at one point has his face between Holmes’ knees.
As for Rachel Mcadams’ Irene Adler, she delivers parcel bombs, leading to a Holmes line about ‘‘the chaos caused by your package’’. Hang on, let’s not bring up Anthony Weiner.
With any hint at female love interests safely removed, Rapace checks back in as a sort of chaperone or little sister. The guys’ matey-ness peaks in a scene in which, while they’re supposed to be inconspicuous at a diplomatic meeting in (Holmesians, take note) Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, they waltz each other around the dance floor in formal wear.
‘‘Who taught you to dance?’’ says Holmes. ‘‘You did,’’ says Watson. The every-10-minutes action sequences rely heavily on Matrix time – alternating super-fast and super-slow motion. This has long since become routine, but it beats the brainless gags, such as Holmes’ drinking formaldehyde, his camouflage suit, his silly disguises and his riding a small pony because he’s afraid of horses.
Holmes doesn’t even cut it as an analyst: Spotting a wine stain on a piece of paper, he assumes that the printing press must have been in a wine cellar. Because that’s the only way wine could get on a note. In France. This kind of wild, unscientific conjecture is (or ought to be) antithetical to the character.
The last act, which seems to have flown in from some other movie, is a big improvement that gives us a break from the dumb jokes.
But in the final seconds, a chance to close with a cool cliffhanger is tossed away in favour of one more chintzy gag. Mystery? Thrills? Comedy? You’ll see more in an episode of Scooby-doo.
Robert Downey Jr, Noomi Rapace and Jude Law in
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens today.