Special Photo: Warner Bros.. Jude Law, left, plays Dr. John Watson and Robert Downey Jr. plays Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes."
1 out of 4 stars
Of the nine movies he's made so far, only a third of director Guy Ritchie's output could be considered watchable; and the three of those are modern-day gangster films set in England. When Ritchie strays from this microcosm of a genre, he fails in a huge way.
"Sherlock Holmes" is set in England and could, in the loosest possible sense, be called a gangster film as it bears absolutely no resemblance to the title character in the series of books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or the many films that followed.
Ritchie and his schlock, screenwriters have turned Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) into a wise-cracking but sullen action figure who participates in bare-knuckle brawling, is halfheartedly involved in a romance with a former girlfriend and is more than a professional partner to his steadfast associate, Dr. Watson (Jude Law).
The year is 1891 and London is being terrorized by a secret society similar to the Masons. The scenes at ritualistic killing sites leave few clues for the mostly inept police force but give Holmes and Watson plenty to instantly track down the cults' leader Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong).
After a quick trial and some doddering around in the gallows, Blackwood is put to death. Killing off the principal (or in this case the only) villain less than an hour into a two-hour plus movie doesn't make much sense and provides us with the proof that Ritchie and his five (yes, five) writers don't know what they're doing.
With a lot of time to waste until his next case, Holmes puts some much needed attention toward his social life. A long-dormant romance with the American sleuth Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is briefly rekindled but neither Holmes nor Adler seems interested in making it a priority. Watson, on the other hand, wants to give up the sleuthing business, get on with his work as a physician and wed the lovely Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly).
Afraid (in more ways than one) to lose the companionship of Watson, Holmes sabotages the romance, which doesn't seem to bother Watson nearly as much as it should. With their respective mates now seemingly on the sidelines, Holmes and Watson start their next case: catching the not-so-dead Blackwood again.
In lieu of anything resembling an interesting or even understandable story, Ritchie includes dozens of chase and fight scenes that serve no purpose other than to indulge his own lust for eye candy. The filmmaker obviously felt no requirement to adhere much to Doyle's original vision and might have served the audience and themselves far better by setting this Holmes mystery in the present day. That would at least give them justification for the all of the explosions and the cut-and-slash editing.
Although Downey and Law exchange the type of banter found in mismatched buddy/cop flicks, they don't seem to have much fun doing so and too often the banter comes off as petty, bitter and vengeful.
Even in his worst movies, Ritchie is always able to make them look good, yet here everything is bathed in dingy, gun-metal grays and smoky blacks and is devoid of any warm tones. The movie is as ugly as it is depressing and incoherent. The last insult comes with the final scene that makes it clear a pointless sequel is already in the works. (Warner Bros.)