Sherlock Holmes paints a picture of a man who is as unhinged as he is charming; a complex of complexes concealed in a tough, calculatingly droll shell. Gone is the patient, observant thinker, and in his place is a muscular ennui of the generic action hero. Arthur Conan Doyle would barely recognize his detective today. This is Sherlock Holmes for the ADD generation.
The film begins by introducing Holmes and his foil, the erudite John Watson, knocking out a variety of scum-of-the-street types via tightly choreographed fight scenes. From there we are thrust into a romanticized version of Victorian London, the plot barely keeping up with a kinetic Robert Downey, Jr.
It is Downey who saves the movie from its plot. Even the most predictable elements of the script are given flourishes that make him a delight to watch. He plays a drunken, drug-ridden Holmes who, despite his addictions, has a OCD-like sense of everything around him. The brilliance that Doyle endowed him with comes to the surface in what are perhaps the best moments of the film, where Holmes concocts an elaborate—but invariably correct—explanation of events based on a few small clues.
Despite its drawbacks, Sherlock Holmes is a film you cannot help but enjoy. Downey’s performance is quietly backed up by Jude Law’s Watson, who deftly balances out his counterpart’s more outlandish characteristics. The dynamic between the two characters is a delight to watch, and there is a certain amount of perverse pleasure to derive from Holmes’ constant attempts to destroy Watson’s relationship with his fiancée.
In the end, it’s better not to spend too much time worrying about the details. The film wants you to understand that Sherlock Holmes has clearly stepped out of his eighteenth century confines and into a whole new, CGI-driven world filled with mystery and magic, just waiting to be debunked. Though the plot is hardly unique, Sherlock Holmes is a charming romp through a gritty world that is rescued by gung-ho acting and a sense of sly humor. I give this film two out of three crowns.