'Sherlock Holmes' is anything but elementary

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes."

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in 1887 in the short story "A Study in Scarlet" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Over the course of 56 short stories and four novels, he became an icon - the most famous detective in history. With the birth of new mediums came new Sherlocks, and the quirky London detective has since been the focus of dozens and dozens of TV shows and movies.


Nate rates it:

"Sherlock Holmes," directed by Guy Ritchie – Rent it

"Sherlock Holmes," directed by Rachel Goldenberg – Skip it

Holmes has so permeated our culture that many of us grew up watching Sherlock Hemlock on "Sesame Street," and it is common to sarcastically call someone Sherlock when they do or say something remarkably stupid.

"SHERLOCK HOLMES" 2010: This newest incarnation plays against a lot of the things we associate with the character, and yet in its own, crazy way this action-packed, swashbuckling popcorn flick is faithful to the original stories.

Most of us remember Holmes for the funny hat, the oversized pipe and his amazing logical deductions. But in the stories by Doyle, Holmes also was a master of disguise, a deadly hand with fighting sticks, guns and swords, a crime-scene analyst of the first order, a brilliant chemist, an occasional cocaine user and a student of the violin. He also was a genius at using deductive reasoning with encyclopedic knowledge of tiny details to crack the most unsolvable of cases.

"Sherlock Holmes" delivers all of that and more, minus the cocaine use, naturally.

Robert Downey Jr. is Holmes this go-round, backed by Jude Law as the stalwart sidekick Dr. Watson. When we meet them, the dynamic duo busts up a black-magic ritual and saves a young woman from becoming a human sacrifice at the hands of evil Lord Blackwood. But then, with a name like Lord Blackwood, you kind of have to be evil, don't you?

Holmes is distracted by the impending marriage of Watson, who will be moving on and leaving Holmes to detect on his own. Holmes is despondent but becomes distracted by a most curious case - Blackwood has risen from the grave and is assembling a cult to overthrow the government. Equally important to Holmes is the reappearance of Irene Adler (the lovely and talented Rachel McAdams). She is the only person to outsmart Holmes (twice) and he loves her dearly although he doesn't trust her for an instant.

All of these events are connected in sinister ways, and it is up to Holmes to unravel the mystery and save England itself. All the while finding time for brawling, foot chases and several comedy bits.

And while none of this adds up to anything substantial, it is a good amount of fun.

Although I love Downey, I think he's a little too comedic as Holmes. He's got the quirkiness for the role, and his British accent is acceptable, but his general demeanor is too American. He's too relaxed, not stuffy and tightly-wound enough to seem like a real Londoner. Still, that's a minor qualm against a rousing, entertaining flick.

The big surprise for me was Jude Law, who steals the show by playing Dr. Watson straight as an arrow and tough as shoe leather. He's the perfect balance to the off-kilter Holmes, and his performance (and chemistry with Downey) really gives the movie a boost.

The thing about characters like Sherlock Holmes (and Dracula and Robin Hood) is that they are in the public domain, so anyone can make a movie about them.

I point this out because it was just two short months ago that another movie by the same name was released on DVD. So for those of you who get their movies by point-and-click, keep this mind - just because a movie released in 2010 is called "Sherlock Holmes" doesn't mean it's the one you want.

"SHERLOCK HOLMES": In this other "Holmes" directed by Rachel Goldenberg with Ben Syder as Holmes and Gareth David-Lloyd as Watson, there are a few minor, trifling differences - the budget is very small, the actors unknown and the action amateurish. While they try to make the most out of their limited resources, the results are somewhat embarrassing - the scene of a ship getting attacked looks like a high school production of "Pirates of Penzance." Also, there are sea monsters, killer dinosaurs and a steam-powered robot. No, I'm not kidding.

This is supposedly the "lost" case of Holmes, never recorded to paper by Watson because the public wasn't ready for the truth. And I've got to admit, he's right: The public STILL isn't ready for this case.

This "Sherlock Holmes" is what is called a "mock buster." When there is a big blockbuster hit at the box office, a low-budget movie will crop up with a similar title and similar cover art so it will be sitting on the shelf next to the big movie when it hits DVD. For "I am Legend," there was "I am Omega." For "Paranormal Activity" there was "Paranormal Entity." You get the picture.

Appropriately, this version of Sherlock is worth renting only when you feel like watching the worst movie possible.

So be careful out there, folks, there's more than one "Sherlock Holmes."

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