New ‘Holmes’ not so clever

Article Published: Dec. 22, 2011 | Modified: Dec. 23, 2011
New ‘Holmes’ not so clever

From left, Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. star in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.'

Bigger and louder have their time and place – a Spinal Tap concert, a monster truck extravaganza, Fox News.

The world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes?” Not so much.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” director Guy Ritchie’s (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) follow-up to 2009’s surprise hit, is short on smarts and high on slow motion.

2009’s “Holmes” showed a more visceral side of Doyle’s Holmes and Watson, not afraid to use plenty of brawn alongside brain, and, surprisingly, it actually worked. Ritchie’s gritty style was a perfect fit for Victorian London, and the dialogue effectively captured the playful and colorful interchanges between our two protagonists, thanks largely to superb performances by Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man”) and Jude Law (“Hugo”).

In “Game of Shadows,” Ritchie seems to be playing it safe by sequel standards, cracking out the “bigger is better” mold to the story’s detriment. The first film wasn’t exactly thought-provoking, but “Shadows” is just dumbed down to the point of absurdity. Impending plot points are practically spelled out, i.e. “Here, have this seemingly arbitrary syringe of adrenaline that might come in handy later,” its comic moments are just cartoonish, and its convoluted – and somewhat dull – mystery serves only to deliver Holmes and Watson from one action set to another.

It’s not intellectually engaging, as one would expect from a Holmes adventure, but Ritchie, Downey and Law still know how to make these characters fun. It’s just always interrupted by a slow motion explosion of sorts. Or some fisticuffs.

Most of these are the machinations of arch-villain Prof. Moriarty (Jared Harris, TV’s “Mad Men”), Holmes’ intellectual equal who happens to have a penchant for evil. Certain giants of industry and political officials are being knocked off, and Holmes has traced their murders to his foil – he just doesn’t have any solid evidence, nor has he found the motive.

The two see their battle of wits as a game – a game of shadows, if you will, whatever the heck that means, and writers Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney (“Paper Man”) don’t shy away from incessantly mentioning the word, “game,” in dialogue – “Are you sure you want to play this game?,” “ This is a game you cannot win,” etc.

They may as well be referring to a video game, in the sense that it’s only fun if you’re the one playing it. The mystery, which involves Moriarty premeditating a world war, just isn’t very engaging. The audience is largely left out of Holmes’ investigation, supposedly to make the big reveals that much more surprising. Instead, they come off as underwhelming and anticlimactic, especially when it comes down to Holmes’ and Moriarty’s final confrontation.

Ritchie strives to make this an epic adventure, but winds up distancing the audience from the narrative.

Like the first film, the sequel’s strong point is its characters. But this time around, there’s just not much to go around. Downey and Law are still delightful as the debauched Holmes and ever-patient Watson, while Harris manages menace effectively.

British comedian Stephen Fry (TV’s “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”) makes a welcome – though at times unsettling – appearance as Holmes’ snooty brother, Mycroft, while Noomi Rapace (2009’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) replaces Rachel McAdams (“Midnight in Paris”), who makes a brief appearance, as the female lead, a gypsy fortune teller whose brother’s somehow engaged in the game of shadows.

A third installment is slated for 2014, hopefully giving Ritchie and company some time to better refine their saga. As it stands, his Holmes is just a little too elementary.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit

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