Downey's no Holmes, but it works - The Explorer: El Sol

Downey's no Holmes, but it works

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Posted: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:36 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Associated Press

'Sherlock Holmes'

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material. Running time: 129 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Take it from a lifelong fan of Arthur Conan Doyle: Robert Downey Jr. is so NOT Sherlock Holmes.

That's not a hindrance — in fact, it's a big help — as he and director Guy Ritchie bring Conan Doyle's dusty Victorian-age detective into the modern world.

Enough of the trappings are left in their action romp "Sherlock Holmes” — the lightning-fast cerebrations, the encyclopedic knowledge of London, the compulsive single-mindedness, the vain one-upmanship — to make Downey a reasonably faithful embodiment of the figure Conan Doyle created.

And of course, this is Downey, whose career resurgence rests on his ability to make the most unlikely role his own. He doesn't look like the classic Holmes, he plays the man as a scamp, he's after laughs as much as lawbreakers.

The failing of director Guy Ritchie — and a team of four writers who share story or screenwriting credit — is the drab plot they built around Holmes, an uninspired tale of a secret society and potentially supernatural doings.

It's nonsense, a dumb Hollywood treatment that's beneath Holmes but is made watchable, even exhilarating at times, by clever chases and scuffles, a superb recreation of old London in its splendor and squalor, and the amiable interplay of the actors.

Jude Law heads the supporting cast as Holmes' colleague, Watson, less a loyal sidekick in Ritchie's creation than an odd-couple roomie in a bickering-buddy bromance.

Ravishing in every scene, Rachel McAdams was born to wear the sort of velvety, frilly Victorian garb she dons as Irene Adler, a cunning foil to Holmes as well as his romantic interest, the most-extreme revision by Ritchie and company.

The literary Holmes admired Irene for her mind. Downey's Holmes admires McAdams' Irene for the whole comely package, and purists will groan over the puppy-dog caresses of Sherlock in love.

But did we mention that McAdams is ravishing in every scene?

Holmes' big mystery is the case of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) Hanged for a series of ritual murders, Blackwood won't stay in his grave, returning to terrorize London with an assault on Parliament aimed to bring him absolute power.

Skirting the fringes is shadowy Professor Moriarty, the criminal mastermind of Conan Doyle's tales, introduced here as Holmes' next great enemy for the inevitable sequel.

Eddie Marsan is perfectly cast as Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade.

The few playful put-downs between Holmes and Lestrade outshine the wall-to-wall discord between Holmes and Watson, the latter about to move out of their Baker Street flat as he prepares to wed Mary (Kelly Reilly, a strong presence in a small role).

But Downey and Law have a pleasant, wisecracking fraternity, Holmes the inspired headcase, Watson the stalwart comrade and caretaker. The story didn't need the artificial friction of their squabbling, a distraction in a film already heaped with distractions.

Ritchie piles on the excess. It serves him well in fashioning a dazzling, detailed version of 1880s London, with the pardon-our-dust construction of the landmark Tower Bridge a pivotal element.

The director should have toned down the manic, quick-cut style he honed on such modern crime tales as "Snatch” and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Holmes was a quick thinker, but Ritchie cranks up his thought processes to such wink-of-an-eye speed that you begin to suspect it's meant to disguise the fact that no one is thinking much at all, at least when it comes to the story.

But who knows? Maybe the movie will make a few viewers go discover Conan Doyle for the first time.

'It's Complicated'

Rated R for some drug content and sexuality. 118 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Writer-director Nancy Meyers' latest relationship comedy isn't what the name promises at all.

It's simple, almost as simple about grown-up romance and heartache as the average Hollywood teen comedy is about youthful love and sex.

That said, a simple-minded story can benefit enormously with Meryl Streep on screen for almost an entire movie.

Streep is charming as a divorced woman in an affair with her remarried ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and a flirtation with a new man (Steve Martin). Too bad Streep puts on this nice show for such a superficial story, and for that matter, too bad for Baldwin, Martin and the rest of an earnest supporting cast led by John Krasinski.

Meyers serves up fluff as light as the pastries Streep's character bakes for a living, a story to make divorced people wish their broken marriages and the ugly aftermath could be as fun and frolicsome as this.

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