Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: The Movie

Hello, Space Monkees!

Here's a good tip for when you're wavering on whether or not you want to see a movie:  Robert Downey Jr. is always a safe bet.  For his first twenty-five years of acting, his quality wavered a bit.  You had great roles like in "Chaplin" and "Natural Born Killers", and even a very early minor role in the 80s teen classic "Weird Science", but mostly it was all a whole lot of fluff.  But in the last five years, even since the criminally underrated "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", the man has just been on fire.  Its been great movie after great movie.  "A Scanner Darkly", "Good Night and Good Luck", "IRON MAN", "Tropic Thunder", along with even a few shining performances in otherwise completely forgettable movies like "Zodiac"; this alone is a more glorious career of work than beyond most people's wildest dreams.

And do you know what the best part of all this is:  he doesn't seem to be slowing down.  We got two more Iron Man movies coming down the line, and something called "Cowboys vs. Aliens" (if that isn't the great idea for a movie ever, I don't know what is).  Happily, I am glad to report that the Christmas release "Sherlock Holmes" is just another triumphant step on Robert Downy Jr.'s seemingly unbreakable winning streak.

So I guess by now you've used your deductive skills to gather that this is going to be a glowing review.

First things, first.  I'm going to be honest here and admit that I know next to nothing about Sherlock Holmes or his mythos.  I do know that he has a sidekick named Dr. Watson, to whom much is "elementary", and that he has an arch-villain named "Professor Moriarty", but beyond that I'm basically in the dark.  Without having actually read any of the turn of the century detective novels, all I can imagine when I think of Sherlock Holmes is the cliches:  a man in a plaid coat and deerstalker trudging around a crime scene with a magnifying glass.  My sum total of Sherlock Holmes experience is a newspaper puzzle called "Slylock Fox" and an extremely short-lived Saturday morning cartoon called "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century".  From what I've heard, this movie is more or less faithful to the original works, but it includes elements that are often forgotten in the pop culture image of the character.

The film is essentially a complete reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes character, making him act and dress very differently than what you would normally think of when you imagine that famous Victorian detective.  Through Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent British accent (to my American ears, anyway), you'll see a Sherlock Holmes that has more in common than Dr. Gregory House than the prim and proper idea we have in our heads.  Or maybe that's just my original idea of what Holmes was, I could easily be mistaken, considering I know nothing.  He's a very slovenly character, almost Bohemian - solving the riddles of the universe by day, and beating up guys in the boxing arena by night.  Its a rare character who can pull together all the deductive genius and outright clairvoyance of Dr. House and add it to the sheer badass power of John McClain.  So what we have here is a mystery movie mixed in with an action flick, along with some ancient conspiracy and magic stuff just for fun.  All of this is thrown into the backdrop of the brilliantly re-created corrupt and smoggy Victorian era London.  Can this combination possibly fail?

Of course not!

Though my favorite part of the movie has to be the most important interaction:  that of Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson (played by Jude Law).  The relationship is - to use another House comparison - like that of Dr. House and Wilson.  On the one hand, Holmes is completely intolerable, forcing Watson to fight crime, repeatedly killing his dog, getting in the way of his marriage, and just living a life of eccentric madness.  But even during their worst bickering, you'll still get that smirk of friendship between the characters.  This is the driving force of the movie, the real core emotion beyond all the fist-fighting and mystery.  And just in case the movie made you fear that perhaps Holmes and Watson might be "more than friends", they pair them up with different women.  Even so, the movie isn't afraid of making jokes about the homoerotica flying around.

Other characters aren't quite as good, but they all work universally.  The main villain brings fear and looks like Andy Garcia (but he isn't, he's actually Mark Strong).  Watson's girlfriend plays her minor part well, but doesn't get enough screen time to really shine.  If I had to pick a character I liked least, it would be Sherlock's New Jersian faux-action girl friend.  At first she's shown to be an extremely independent character, even able to outsmart Holmes at times.  However, the movie quickly knocks her armor off, turning her into the Damsel in Distress twice, and even having her made a tool of the shadowy character, hiding off in a sideplot to be the villain in the sequel.  But at least she's cute, so yeah.

In the end, I really can't say this was the absolute greatest movie ever, but it definitely works on every level it needed to, and I am looking forward to several sequals - as long as they can keep up the quality.  If you need a good movie to scratch your itch, this will scratch that itch, and more so.  You really can't ask for much more out of a film, can you?  "Sherlock Holmes" is a perfectly fine way to end your 2009 film year.

And if you're having any doubts, just know that full of shit New York Press film critic Armond White hated it.  That's always a good sign.


  1. See your hated for White is ever present.

    Also, I can't believe anouther person on this planet is aware of the Sherlock Holmes IN THE FUTURE cartoon series. I thought I was the only person to know.

  2. I saw commercials for it a few years back, but never actually watched it.

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