Last year super-producer Joel Silver mounted an abortive attempt to revive the blockbuster Lethal Weapon franchise and though the project quickly fell apart after star Mel Gibson passed on the idea Silver’s yen for a new Buddy Cop franchise persisted. His dream has been realized albeit in a slightly modified form by Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes a propulsive thoroughly modern action movie.
In the hands of Ritchie and his able stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic crime-solving duo has been recast as a Victorian Riggs and Murtaugh. Downey’s Holmes is a brash brilliant rogue prone to fits of both inspiration and crippling melancholy; Law’s Watson is his steady and cautious counterpart disgusted by his partner’s self-destructive tendencies but fiercely loyal to him nonetheless. Both wield fists as sharp as their wits trading verbal jabs with each other as often as they dispense beatdowns to London’s colorful collection of brawny toothless goons.
Sherlock Holmes’ story such as it is mimics portions of The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure plunging Holmes and Watson into a sweeping mystery involving secret societies governments conspiracies and heavy doses of the occult. Their nemesis is not Moriarty (he appears only in shadow presumably saving himself for a sequel) but Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) a devil-worshiping aristocratic mad scientist who aspires to rule England and invade America.
It’s all rather preposterous — and occasionally incoherent — action movie fluff. But it’s also an infectious rollicking good yarn. Best known for his flashy muscular visual style which all too often feels distractingly anachronistic in Sherlock Holmes Ritchie doesn’t get enough credit for his devilishly acute sense of humor the lack of which was the most notable feature of his regrettable Madonna period. It’s back with a vengeance in this film which builds a convincing case based on Downey’s sly subversive charm and the chemistry he forges with Law. The two actors are so good together in fact that Sherlock Holmes’ two female characters played by Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly seem to exist solely to provide the occasional reminder that Holmes and Watson are in indeed heterosexual. Did they succeed? That perhaps is a mystery to be solved in the sequel.