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Ritchie's at home with 'Holmes'

Article Published: Dec. 30, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Ritchie's at home with 'Holmes'

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Like your mustache." Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. star in 'Sherlock Holmes.'

Guy Ritchie knows how to capture seedy on film. And grit.

The palette may be monotone, but his characters are nothing short of colorful, complementary to his fast-paced brand of storytelling and the sordid environment surrounding them.

Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch.) is right at home in Victorian London, the iconic (and grimy) setting of Sherlock Holmes.

This latest interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective novels plays on the understated aspects of those stories, highlighting the more visceral facets of Holmes' investigations, the seemingly neurotic quirks that balance his genius, and his brotherly relationship with friend and colleague Dr. Watson.

As Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder, Iron Man) is superb, breathing an air of depravity into a traditionally formal character. His Holmes is somewhat of a debauched slob, a troubled genius who enjoys the trouble, with the always reliable Watson (Jude Law, Road to Perdition) acting as a moral counterbalance.

Like a fighting Lt. Columbo, this Sherlock Holmes, though he appears unassuming, is anything but. Outspoken, crude and often crass, Downey Jr.'s Holmes employs both brawn and brains, cracking just as many jaws as he does cases.

Filled with action, stylized fight sequences and explosions, Ritchie's is an invigorated, unconventional approach, and though its leads are nothing short of brilliant, Holmes unfortunately falls victim to a rather feeble plot. Apart from simply guessing whodunit, there's not much else for the audience to deduce, leaving viewers in the dark as they follow Holmes and Watson on their adventure.

The result is a somewhat lackluster story, bolstered mostly by the winning chemistry of its lead performers and Ritchie's engaging style, which make it an adventure worth taking.

While investigating a series of cult-related murders, Holmes and Watson apprehend the enigmatic Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, Sunshine), who, on the eve of his execution, promises Holmes he shall return, with more deaths to follow. Less than a day after Blackwood is pronounced dead, by Watson no less, a gravedigger witnesses his apparent resurrection, and, as promised, murder ensues.

When Holmes is hired by former flame and career criminal Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, The Time Traveler's Wife) to find a missing man, he learns the Blackwood case is more complicated than it seems, as Adler's query is the first victim, found buried in Blackwood's coffin.

Furthermore, it seems Blackwood has more on his mind than murder, throwing world domination into his nefarious mix. It's up to Holmes to find out how, before he can stop the wheels already in motion.

Holmes follows his investigation down a path of intrigue, fisticuffs and the occult, while also grappling with an even more foreboding mystery - Watson's engagement to the elegant Mary (Kelly Reilly, Pride & Prejudice).

Watson, it would seem, is intent on starting a new chapter in his life, one considerably calmer and less rife with danger - an alternative Holmes finds less than desirable.

Unlike other Holmes portrayals, Ritchie's version is remarkably more physical. Like his quick-witted skills of deduction, Holmes, also an adeptly skilled pugilist, calculates each potential blow before he strikes, and in split-second timing, fitting perfectly with Ritchie's often frenetic camerawork, slowed down to capture every bone-crushing, flesh-jiggling moment and sped up for a finishing, brutal effect.

But unlike Holmes' jaw-breaking blows, the film isn't always on target. McAdams' character seems rather arbitrary, included for the sake of having a female lead, and while the plot devices and characters are compelling on their own, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, with its obvious setup for a sequel detracting from an otherwise satisfying denouement.

Downey Jr. and Law, however, work so well together that these faults seem less apparent, allowing viewers to enjoy the ride for all its worth, a seemingly impossible feat in modern big-budget cinema. But as Doyle famously put it, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

Sherlock Holmes, rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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