Detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his stalwart partner Watson (Jude Law)engage in a
battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis (Mark Strong) whose plot is a threat to all of

Guy Ritchie’s re-interpretation of the iconic sleuth cheerfully disregards history and well may spark a new franchise.

* * * * (4 STARS): Sherlock Holmes as a dishevelled, karate-chopping, kick-ass action hero and manic depressive? Devotees of the iconic detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may well blanch at the idea, and Basil Rathbone, who played the dapper sleuth 14 times in the 1940s, might be spinning in his grave.

But today’s audiences, many of whom would have little or no sense of that history, are highly likely to embrace Robert Downey Jr’s brash new interpretation of the character in Guy Ritchie’s smart, stylish comedy-thriller.

To them, it matters not that Ritchie and his writing team have jettisoned almost all the mannerisms and trappings of the Edwardian crime-solver; indeed, just about the only similarities between the two personas are that they are extremely intelligent, puff on pipes, and are assisted in their endeavors by a doctor named Watson.

Instead we get a re-invented Holmes who uses both brawn and brain to outwit and outmuscle numerous adversaries. The result is an appealing mixture of stylized violence involving an array of exotic weaponry, droll humour – chiefly emanating from the lively banter between Holmes and Watson – and suspense.

The movie does, however, have its flaws. There is a weak sub-plot in the relationship between Jude Law’s Watson and his fiancee (a colourless Kelly Reilly), which is threatened by Holmes’ clumsy intervention; the bromance between Watson and Holmes is far more compelling. And the drawn-out climax relies too much on blatantly obvious CGI effects, lessening its impact.

The convoluted plot by three screenwriters- newcomer Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham (Invictus) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the dreadful Jumper) – follows Holmes and Watson as they investigate the curious case of Lord Blackwood (a menacing Mark Strong). A Satanic serial killer and leading light of a cult bent on world domination, Blackwood is hanged and Watson certifies he’s dead, but the man rises from the grave to wreak havoc on dank, dirty 19th Century London, in cahoots with people in high places.

Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, a master criminal and old flame of Holmes, who twice bested him in previous encounters. She asks the sleuth to track down a missing person who soon turns up dead, and her intentions remain opaque for much of the movie.

Sporting a stubble and unkempt hair, Downey brings plenty of physicality and his trademark devil-may-care charm to the role, well-matched by Law who, for once, resists the temptation to prance and preen.

In a return to form after several misfires including the under-whelming RockNRolla, the director orchestrates some dazzling and elaborate action set-pieces including the opening confrontation in a dungeon, where Holmes rescues a damsel in distress; an extended brawl with an extraordinarily polite, French-speaking giant; and a thrilling sequence in a fiery abattoir.

As noted, the final showdown rings rather hollow with its CGI artifice, unlike the rest of the movie which succeeds on wit and guile. The dreaded name of Moriarty pops up towards the end, suggesting he’ll be Holmes’ nemesis in the inevitable sequel.

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2 hours 8 min
In Cinemas 26 December 2009,
Thu, 05/06/2010 - 11