The pipe isn’t a meerschaum, the hat isn’t a deerstalker, and, although he’s played by Robert Downey Jr., this Sherlock Holmes doesn’t succumb to seven-percent-solution benders. Guy Ritchie’s polite take on everyone’s favorite Victorian sleuth is one stolid English affair, a would-be franchise starter as devoid of its leading man’s eccentricities as its director’s oft-underrated visual pizzazz.
To his credit, Ritchie teases out the homoerotic undercurrent in the buddy cop premise (he did the same in last year’s RocknRolla) implying a certain close bond between Holmes and Watson, played here by the rapidly aging pretty boy Jude Law, who just wants to move out and get a place of his own. Less convincing, however, is the supposed torch Holmes carries for the film’s most glaring walking anachronism, Rachel McAdams’s American confidence artist. Couldn’t McAdams, an Ontario native, at least have played a Canadian grifter?
The weakest aspect of Sherlock Holmes is the plot, involving a series of ritual murders. Ritchie portrays the occult as simple smoke and mirrors, in contrast to Barry Levinson’s neglected Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which also featured a shopworn tale about sacrificial virgins, but which treated its supernatural genre elements with greater respect and savoir faire. Instead of black magic to frighten us, Ritchie concocts a steampunk version of a weapon of mass destruction, plagiarizes his moody art direction from V for Vendetta (when he should have gone instead to From Hell) and gives us the unsettling spectacle of Downey looking bored with his own subdued, appallingly conventional performance.
Opens December 25