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Sherlock Holmes poster 

 "Sherlock Holmes"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Let's be done with Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes: eschew those Brit intellectual detective movies made in the 30s and 40s. Rathbone was rather stuffy and Nigel Bruce, as Dr. Watson, rather too fumblingly comedic for his own good with moviegoers today.

Hey, another great idea! Let's make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's hero into a durable new franchise like Harry Potter...or yes, even better...like Batman. How about keeping Sir Arthur's characters just as clever and scientific, but so much more hip, handsome and blasé? And maybe Holmes shouldn't have to bathe or shave as often as Rathbone's Sherlock did, and come off a bit disheveled and even more bohemian as Sir Arthur had him on the pages.

I'm thinkin' Robert Downey, Jr. ("The Soloist") has a new gig. And with his studied and excellent English accent left over from the memorable job playing Chaplin, he can't miss doing a latter-day Holmes.

Now, Dr. Watson---Holmes' stalwart sidekick---must also be rather Brit-snazzy and more up-to-date than Kansas City. That would mean a Jude Law type actor, maybe. Right, Jude Law. He can do Watson.

The game is afoot!
The game is afoot: Is this how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid found fame?

By Jove, I think we've got it. With Robert's experience with drugs (like Holmes) we've really got it, if we can just get Mr. Downey to lose the deerstalker and wear headgear with, maybe, a little more of an Italian or French flair, while smoking a pipe that doesn't look so damned silly.

Off and rolling again is "Sherlock Holmes," this time, from director Guy Ritchie ("Snatch"). The screenplay is by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg with screen story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram.

So, we've got a mix of Doyle's glib duo in a Harry Potterish looking production with touches of modern Batman cinema, Tom Hanksian religious cultism a la "The Da Vinci Code"/"Angels and Demons" and Keanu Reeves-style, slo-mo "Matrix-like" fight scenes. I can see the box office queues, already, stretching into the distance and out of sight.

This superstitious Sherlock episode presents Holmes and Watson locked in mortal combat, intermittently, with a nasty cult guy and his assorted toadies. Lord Blackwood is an impressive and well-dressed villain who plots to assume control of Britain and destroy its government. It's quite a unique strategy. Blackwood, who, at the outset, has a date with the gallows, will, subsequent to his lynching party, rise from the dead and assume power. He is a first-rate dastard brought off menacingly well by Mark Strong ("Syriana").

The distaff side of the cast is composed of Rachel McAdams ("State of Play") as a cunning Lady of the Evening with whom Holmes has had prior truck, and Kelly Reilly ("Me And Orson Welles"), who impinges on the Holmes/Watson bond. Ms. Reilly is cast as Dr. Watson's fiancé. I don't know, maybe this lady has been injected into the script to eradicate any supposition relating to just how close and what kind of an association Holmes and Watson have in Ritchie's reboot.

"Sherlock Holmes" effects jerky forward motion with segments or bits not well connected. Each usually provides flippant back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson, some kind of hand-to-hand violence (with and without weapons) or frantic chase among rather grimy looking people who appear to have missed out on a good scrubbing in, at least, a fortnight, save for one elderly, villainous bloke who, halfway through the film, is mysteriously dispatched sitting up to his neck in a copper-colored bath tub---absent any ring of old English grime. (Rated PG-13.)

Almost to a segment, each scene in "Sherlock" obliges to conclude with a forced punch line or action which comes off not particularly humorously while growing, with each repetition, more apparent as an annoying conceit the script demands.

Hans Zimmer's incidental music, in some scenes, is effective in sustaining and intensifying appropriate emotions and suspense, especially when played on solo instruments: the violin and other stringed items, usually plucked, etc. It adds a nice touch since Holmes, himself, has always been devoted to the violin. Downey, now and then, fiddles, in character, a few pizzicato plunks.

They Might Be Giants

Scott models deerstalker

Guy Ritchie isn't the first filmmaker to do a makeover on Holmes. Another was ventured onto the screen in 1971 in a poorly marketed film titled, "They Might Be Giants." It starred George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward: Scott as a Classic Paranoid, (a retired, liberal judge named Justin Playfair) who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes, and Woodward playing a matronly reserved yet forthrightly sincere psychologist employed at a New York City mental asylum to which the good judge may be committed if he doesn't shape up and cease his insane attempts to vanquish the evil Dr. Moriarity. The role Woodward has in "Giants" is, of course: Dr. Mildred Watson.

University of Tulsa grad Rue McClanahan also has a ball playing Judge Playfair's zany sister in this alternative Sherlock, produced, in part, by the late Paul Newman. Anthony Harvey directed and the script was written by James Goldman ("The Lion In Winter") and came from his stage play of the same title. As a film, "They Might Be Giants" was sold as a romantic comedy. It's anything but that.

It is the best Sherlock Holmes picture I've ever seen, though.

"Sherlock Holmes" official site.

Opens wide on Christmas day.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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