• Pages

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 42 other followers

  • Top Posts

Iron Man as Sherlock Holmes? Elementary (and brilliant)

Law and Downey Jr. make like a couple of old marrieds (er, detectives) in Guy Ritchie's explosive "Sherlock Holmes."

Whatever you think about Robert Downey Jr., you can’t accuse the actor of being a phone-it-in performer. He brings an edgy vulnerability to every character he plays. That goes triple for Sherlock Holmes, transformed in Guy Ritchie’s brutish but talkily charming “Sherlock Holmes” as a British Tyler Durden with wilder eyes, artfully disheveled hair and mind-boggling deductive powers. The bone-dry wit and the probing gazes, though, are vintage Downey, and yet they feel like something ripped from the pages of any Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories. 

Just as Downey — who at first seemed an odd pick (and a Yank, no less) to play the world’s most famous detective — puts his own stamp on the character, so too does Ritchie muscle in with his reinvisioning of Holmes and Watson. He’s out to recreate not just the detective and his obliging assistant but the entire world they inhabit. Though he’s not entirely successful (the dialogue isn’t period-specific; the special effects are anything but subtle), there’s one thing Ritchie has that keeps “Sherlock Holmes” bobbing and weaving like a boxer dodging the knockout blow: energy.

What “Sherlock Holmes” the film lacks in brains it makes up for in zeal; this much is clear in the first 10 minutes, where Holmes and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) interrupt Lord Blackwood (the inherently menacing Mark Strong, who makes a first-rate villain), an occultist, in the midst of a human sacrifice. The scene involves Holmes unleashing a “Fight Club”-meets-blitzkrieg attack on the unsuspecting guard, but it’s an attack that’s planned with clinical precision and executed with supernatural calm. Downey Jr.’s Holmes is like that — an odd mix of brute strength (note his bulked-up physique) and spectacular observational powers. He’s an idiot savant with fists of fury. Not surprisingly, Holmes has zero social skills and cannot cope with change, which comes in form of Watson’s decision to leave 221B Baker Street and settle into marriage with Mary (Kelly Reilly). He’s tired, the good doctor insists, of Holmes’ poor hygiene, the grubby conditions of his study (Roger Ebert calls this an out-of-character misstep; I’d have to agree), his medical experiments on Watson’s dog. Quibbles aside, could Watson leave behind such a life of volatility? Is a lifetime of quietly retiring with a brandy before the study fireplace, pooch at his feet, really better than explosions and gunfights?

Of course not, and the remainder of “Sherlock Holmes” proceeds to pummel us with the here’s why. There’s a plot thread involving thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, criminally underused), that rare bird who has managed to outfox Holmes and steal his heart. She becomes entangled with Holmes and Watson’s mission to uncover what happened to Lord Blackwood. Properly hung, his body’s disappeared from its tomb (Holmes, naturally, won’t shrug that off as “black magic”) and the people connected to him suffer otherworldly deaths. Action sequences begat action sequences. And so on. While the fight sequences are expertly choreographed, even graceful, the special effects are disappointing — particularly the standoff on London’s Tower Bridge, which is … substandard. In these scenes, it’s as if Ritchie couldn’t find effects to match the vision in his head. The disparity is jarring.

Other aspects of “Sherlock Holmes” feel the same way. McAdams, an extraordinarly versatile actress, is reduced to a few scenes that leave us wanting more (and not in a good way). Holmes and Watson, as Ritchie sees them, aren’t trusted colleagues so much as roommates who sort of have the hots for each other. The tweak makes the relationship seem phony, a bit cutesy and a little too bromance-circa-1891-London. Where’s the professionalism, the mannered decorum? Law and Downey Jr. work hard to make this update agreeable, and mostly they succeed. Their banter is amusing, but Law, ably playing the bemused straight man here, seems to understand he’s the opening act. As the headliner, Downey Jr. brings enough sarcasm and shrewd intellect to Sherlock Holmes to offset the washboard abs. He doesn’t merely play the character, he owns him, and that whole-hearted commitment nearly covers the film’s numerous shortcomings.

Grade: B+

2009: Movies to Watch

Alas, the Oscars have come and gone. If you worship at the altar of Stephen Colbert, chances are you were not surprised by the outcome. I know I wasn’t. Check out my TV if you don’t believe me. You’ll find it refreshingly free of dents, dings, cracks and scratches. No foreign objects were harmed during The Really Big Show and, praise be to Will Scarlett O’Hara, I don’t have to make good on my promise to move to Canada. (Heath, I had your back … even though I generally don’t stick up for people dumb enough to mix Oxycontin and, you know, any other painkiller ever invented ever.)

But now I need a little something to lift me out of my post-Oscar funk. And what better way to forget about the past than charging headlong into the future? So here’s a treatise (more like a random sampling) of the 2009 movies I’m jumpier than a virgin at a prison rodeo to see:

  • Sunshine Cleaning (March 13) — Like anyone else nerdy enough to seek out IFC films, I fell in love with Amy Adams in Junebug, where I became convinced an actress who could make me love a character that cheerful and perky can do anything. She elevates any film she’s in, so imagine my excitement at the prospect of seeing her paired with the divine Emily Blunt, who stole every scene from Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. If any two actresses can pull off a comedy about two sisters who start a business cleaning up violent crime scenes, it’s these two. Sign me up.
  • The Last House on the Left (March 13) — There’s only one reason to see “Last House”: to compare it to the supremely unnerving, gripping and violent 1972 classic directed by Wes Craven. The original gets my vote as one of the most disturbing films ever made — the top spot goes, of course, to Chaos — so I have bargain-basement hopes for the remake, particularly because the most famous actor in the whole movie is Monica Potter, who’s made a career of playing vanilla characters in B movies. If it’s crap, I’m pulling for a Chernobyl-styled failure.
  • I Love You, Man (March 20) — Know how I know there’s some sort of higher power? Because Jason Segel finally gets the coveted spot as Paul Rudd’s fake best friend/wannabe best man in I Love You, Man. Finally, people are starting to see what so many of us saw from the beginning (for Segel, Freaks and Geeks; for Rudd, Clueless): Segal and Rudd are supremely gifted comedic actors who deserve to headline their own movies. Toss in Rashida Jones (who had a career before The Office, people) and I’m already whipping out my AmEx and logging on to Fandango.
  • Adventureland (March 27) — I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age movie, especially when it takes place in a theme park populated by the likes of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Adventureland, written by Greg Mottola (one of the brilliant minds behind Undeclared), is shaping up to be a kinder, gentler, more sophisticated Superbad. Newbie Jessie Eisenberg has a pleasingly naive William Miller quality about him, and I’m thrilled to see Freaks and Geeks grad Martin Starr (that’s Bill “You Cut Me Off Mid-Funk” Haverchuck for those not in the know) back. Add a Sno Cone and a bag of cotton candy and I’ll be in heaven.
  • The Soloist (April 24) — The fact that this movie has been shelved for more than a year worries me not. Why? Because this movie — about a journalist (Robert Downey Jr.) who befriends a homeless, brilliantly talented musician (Jamie Foxx) — has almost limitless potential. Downey Jr. is on fire these days, and Foxx continues to expand on the promise and skill he showed in Ray and Collateral. And, of course, don’t forget about Catherine Keener, a fine actress relegated to tiny bit parts. Color me excited.
  • Terminator Salvation (May 21) — I know what you’re thinking: Enough with the Terminator franchise already! I’d be inclined to agree, since I barely watched the original … and the one after that … and the one after that … and the one — well, you get the idea. But this Terminator stars none other than Batman himself, the profanity-spewing Mickey-Rourke-in-his-tender-years wannabe. Yes, post-Batman he’s become a prima donna, but Bale brings his all to every role he plays (did you see El Maquinista?). Hell, he reinvented Batman; I suspect he could do the same for John Connor.
  • Drag Me to Hell (May 29) — A horror movie starring a kinda-sorta-funny guy (Justin Long) and a talented but largely unfamous actress (Alison Lohman) about a supernatural curse. Does it get less original or more derivative than this? Hey, the plot description isn’t what sold me on this; it’s the fact that Sam Raimi — who had a fantastic career as a comic-horror cult filmmaker before the Spiderman series — is directing. He’s a superhero of a director, someone who can do horror and comedy and action. If Drag Me contains 1/16th of the pluck and wit that the Evil Dead films had, Raimi’s going down in my book as one of my favorite directors.
  • The Maiden Heist (May 29) — A museum heist involving: Marcia Gay Harden. Morgan Freeman. William H. Macy. Christopher Walken. Together. In. One. Movie. ‘Nuff said.
  • Public Enemies (July 1) — Gangster movies are a dime a dozen these days, thanks in part to the great but interminable American Gangster. This year’s high-promise gangster pic is Public Enemies, a story about the Feds’ attempt to bring down gangsters John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum). With Depp, Christian Bale and Frenchie Marion Cotilliard in the mix, this is a recipe for greatness (Denzel, eat your heart out).
  • Funny People (July 31) — Call me crazy (it’s been suggested), but I can’t think of one good reason not to see a movie where Adam Sandler plays a dying comedian who takes a newbie (Seth Rogen) under his wing. Sandler has proven he can do subtle comedy and drama just fine. Even Rogen has his moments of levity (I still say his sex scene with Elizabeth Banks is one of the sweetest and best I’ve ever seen). The trick will be finding the right tone, pitched somewhere between Little Miss Sunshine and Reign Over Me. (Added bonus: There’s the potential to see Seth Rogen cry onscreen. Can he do it?)
  • Julie & Julia (Aug. 7) — Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in the same movie? What is this, Doubt with flatware, baking soda and a cast-iron skillet? Hardly. I’ve got huge, bursting hopes for this film about a kitchen novice (Adams) who decides to cook every recipe penned by Julia Child (Streep, natch) in her book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Adams and Streep were stellar together in Doubt, so I suspect this pairing — here in a much lighter, more comic setting — will be equally fantastic. And I never turn up my nose at a movie where Stanley Tucci and Jane Lynch show up in the supporting cast. C’est magnifique.
  • Jennifer’s Body (Sept. 18) — Can a violent black comedy written by Diablo Cody about a possessed, homicidal cheerleader (Megan Fox, who’s easy on the eyes and has crack comic timing) who offs male classmates be anything other than stupendous? No, no, a thousand times no, I say! Cody’s got an ear for whip-smart dialogue, and director Karyn Kusama has assembled a great team of actors — including the snarkastic Adam Brody, Cynthia Stevenson and Allison Janney — sure to make this Heathers for the Bring It On set. Rah. Totally.
  • Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25) — The truth: I’ve been a RDJr. groupie since Less Than Zero, so I’ll watch any movie he makes and probably rave about it (I make an exception for Only You). Because, you see, he keeps taking these larger-than-life characters — Ironman/Tony Stark, Charlie Chaplin, Col. Lincoln Osiris, Dito, Harry Lockhart — and making them flawed, vulnerable and funny. He seems perfectly cast in every part, much the same way Roger Ebert said Frances McDormand does, and it would seem elementary that he’ll do a smash-up job playing the ever-droll Sherlock Holmes. And the fact that Guy Ritchie’s directing, well, that’s just icing.