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Is Robert Downey Jr. 'Holmes' alone?

Published December 29. 2009 05:00PM

"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Get ready for "Sherlock Holmes" the video game, coming soon to an Xbox or Wii near you.

While the latest "Sherlock Holmes" movie is based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes' purists might be annoyed by Robert Downey Jr.'s magnificent nonchalance in his portrayal of the detective, as well as Guy Ritchie's highly-stylized direction.

Dear Watson, this is not your grandfather's Sherlock Holmes.

There are some 200 movies based on Doyle's Holmes, enough to make the Guinness World Records, so the game's afoot.

In a bit of ingenious counterprogramming and tie-in all at once, cable television's Turner Classic Movies held a 24-hour Sherlock Holmes movie marathon Dec. 25-26. While those classic black and white films, starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, contain the Holmes' DNA, they are a far cry from Ritchie's brash reimagining.

Based on the chase scenes, violence and explosions, Ritchie seems to have taken a page from the blockbuster screenplay play book of Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean") and Michael Bay ("Transformers").

It's not only that this Holmes doesn't sport a deerstalker Downey wears a derby and a slouch hat, but more often is bare-headed it's that Ritchie has injected a supercharged atmosphere that typifies action films.

So, it's Sherlock Holmes action hero, by way of "Iron Man." This being Downey, it's also Sherlock Holmes original slacker. Baker Street will never be the same.

Numerous fight scenes, in which Holmes not only engages in fisticuffs, but in a type of karate, threaten to turn the proceedings into a Hong Kong martial arts film.

Downey conveys Holmes' essentially contemplative nature. Downey is well-cast as Holmes, his square jaw set with the certainty of his deductive powers, large eyes ever-observant, and expression in a perpetual state of bemusement. His sonorous voice, here with clipped speech patterns, and a seemingly good British accent, serves the role well.

The casting of Jude Law as Holmes' sidekick, Dr. Watson, is a clever coup. Law and Downey, as perhaps the first fictional crime-solving buddy team, have so much chemistry one wonders if Watson will abandon his engagement to Mary (Kelly Reilly).

With Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler along for the chase, a sort of middle-aged trio right out of "Harry Potter" is formed, with Adler as Hermione to Holmes' Harry and Law's Ron.

The "Sherlock Holmes" movie invokes the "dark arts," in the embodiment of evil Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), and hints at more skullduggery than "The Da Vinci Code."

The film's predominantly black palette evokes a post-Industrial Revolution 1890's London, England. Three of the big action scenes: a boat in dry dock, a meat-processing plant and an under-construction London Bridge are tours de force and emphasize the mechanistic, scientific and deductive musings of Holmes and his era.

The screenplay by Anthony Peckham ("Invictus"), Simon Kinberg ("X-Men: The Last Stand," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith") and Michael Robert Johnson is based on a story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram, a "Harry Potter" executive producer.

Ritchie, well on the mend since "Swept Away" (2002), starring ex-wife Madonna, provides many nifty moments. The dialogue is frequently fun. "There's nothing more elusive than an obvious fact," Holmes says.

Several flash-forwards foreshadow certain action sequences, with Downey's explanatory monologue pulling the viewer into the sleuth's mentality. Action scenes combine slow-motion and speeded-up action, a trademark of Quentin Tarantino and other contemporary directors. The explanations by Holmes for all the unbelievable goings-on are intriguing. "Sherlock Holmes" is enormously entertaining.

Look for multiple Oscar nominations for "Sherlock Holmes" in technical categories: Production Design (Sarah Greenwood), Director of Photography (Philippe Rousselot), editing (James Herbert), sound (Has Zimmer). With the expansion of the Oscar movie nominees to 10, "Sherlock Holmes" might be on that list, too.

Since Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty is mentioned at the film's conclusion, this version of "Sherlock Holmes" may be one of many more.

"Sherlock Holmes": MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material; Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller; Run time: 2 hr., 8 min.; Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Rocky Road to Dublin" by The Dubliners is heard during "Sherlock Holmes" closing credits.

Box Office, Dec. 26: "Avatar" continued at No.1, with $75 million for the weekend, $212.2 million, after two weeks, fending off four opening movies, including "Sherlock Holmes," No. 2, $65.3 million; "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," No. 3, $50.2 million, $77 million since Dec. 25, and "It's Complicated," No. 4, with $22.1 million.

5. "Up in the Air," $11.7 million, $24.5 million, four weeks; 6. "The Blind Side," $11.7 million, $184.3 million, six weeks; 7. "The Princess and the Frog," $8.6 million, $63.3 million, five weeks; 8. "Nine," $5.5 million, $5.9 million, opening; 9. "Did You Hear about the Morgans," $5 million, $15.5 million, two weeks; 10. "Invictus," $4.3 million, $23.3 million, three weeks

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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