Film review: Elementary, my dear Watson. Latest "Sherlock' still needs an update

December 19, 2011|By Bob Garver
  • In this image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Robert Downey Jr., left, and Jude Law, are shown in a scene from "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."
AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Christopher Rapha

Did you know the title character of the television show "House" is based on Sherlock Holmes?

Played by Hugh Laurie, Dr. Gregory House is a brilliant solver of mysteries who has an antisocial personality, a drug problem and a number of annoying personal traits. It's no accident, we're supposed to be seeing how the greatest mind in literature would operate in today's society.

Holmes himself is portrayed basically the same way by Robert Downey Jr., both in 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" and now in "A Game of Shadows." The portrayals are so similar that my mother saw the trailer for the original and asked if the actor was the one from "House" despite not knowing the deliberate connection. The actors don't look very much alike, they just take the same approach to the character.  

I bring up the "House" comparison because the show has rendered the films moot. Why make a big to-do about going to a see a movie when you get to see the same character in 24 new adventures a year from the comfort of your living room (not to mention for free)?

About the only thing the films do to distance themselves from the show is set the stories in Victorian London. The most notable unique elements are fancy dress, cobblestone streets, and no cell phones. This is supposed to give the film an "authentic" look reminiscent of the books, but all the camera tricks and special effects take away from the classical feel.  

For this film, Holmes takes on his literary arch nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). We are constantly told of what a sharp intellectual Moriarty is and how he's a perfect mental match for Holmes, but frankly I'm not convinced.

Having the resources to carry out an evil scheme (in this case egging on World War I so he can profit from the sale of weapons) doesn't make him smart, it just makes him rich and powerful.

And he makes the ever-stupid villain mistake of bragging about his plans to Holmes so our hero can stop him just in time. I think the message we're supposed to take away from these scenes is that Moriarty is the original Bond villain.

Holmes is joined by his ever-faithful sidekick Watson (Jude Law). Holmes loves to annoy Watson, and Watson tolerates it because he sees it as some kind of sign of affection. Holmes puts poor Watson in danger just so he can earn his gratitude when he saves him. Watson is getting married, but the film still likes to be childish and tease that the two are more than just friends. Other characters include Noomi Rapace as a gypsy girl whose brother may be mixed up with Moriarty and Stephen Fry (an comedy partner of Hugh Laurie) as Holmes' brother.  

As with the original "Sherlock Holmes," "A Game of Shadows" has little to make it interesting or memorable. I'll admit that the film does have one cute trick where Holmes imagines how an entire fight sequence will play out before it happens, usually in defiance of Holmes's strategy.

Otherwise, it's an action movie we've seen a thousand times before. I have no doubt that the character of Sherlock Holmes can still be enjoyed, provided you can find an older film or better yet, some of the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But this surly version of Holmes, while fitting in very well on television in "House," has no place at the theater.

Two Stars out of Five

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and some drug material. Its running time is 129 minutes.  

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