GENRE: Victorian thriller
THE PITCH: English hipster director Guy Ritchie's flashy look at the 19th-century super sleuth (Robert Downey Jr.) and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) as they take on the fiendish, potentially undead Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). But will Watson's fiancée (Kelly Reilly) and comely thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) break up Holmes and Watson's bromance?
MONEY SHOTS: À la the director's Snatch, fists connect to faces in exaggerated slow motion. Holmes leaps out a window and ingeniously improvises a disguise to scope out Adler's mysterious employer. Holmes uses a newfangled electronic gizmo to zap a massive French thug. Holmes and Watson narrowly avoid being smushed by a ship launched from dry dock. The final battle takes place on the scaffolding of London Bridge still under construction.
GIMME-MY-MONEY-BACK SHOTS: A fiery, slow-motion explosion, like something out of the National Treasure franchise.
BEST LINE: "Why are you always suspicious?" "Should I answer chronologically or alphabetically?" Holmes replies, hinting at Adler's history of duplicity. (Surprisingly, Ritchie never finds an excuse for someone to say "No shit, Sherlock.")
MOST LOADED LINE: "You do know what you're drinking. Patients take it for eye surgery," Watson observes of Holmes' substance-abuse problem. Sherlock Holmes, like Iron Man, isn't shy about linking the brilliant protagonists to Downey's personal problems.
BODY COUNT: About a half dozen, thanks to a malfunctioning pistol-turned-fireball, a poisoned bathtub and two hangings. Most of the brawls prove nonfatal, although the massive French thug fatally flattens a smaller bad guy. We also see a corpse in a coffin, icky dissected frogs, and a severed rat's tail.
FLESH FACTOR: Straying from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original texts, Holmes participates in bare-knuckled – and bare-chested – boxing. Holmes awakens handcuffed nude in a hotel bed with a strategically placed throw pillow. McAdams shows off bare shoulders while changing. Edward Fox shows off bare shoulders in a bath.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: A plot point about occult murders taking place at prominent London landmarks seems cribbed from the Jack the Ripper tale From Hell.
HOW DOES IT FIT WITH HOLMES HISTORY? Assuming audiences will recognize Holmes and Watson as longstanding partners, the script introduces characters such as Adler and Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) like old friends. It avoids Holmes trademarks like "Elementary, my dear Watson," the Meerschaum pipe, and the deerstalker cap (the latter of which dates not to the books but the Basil Rathbone films). The fast pace and supernatural mumbo-jumbo evoke nothing so much as Chris Columbus' Young Sherlock Holmes only ... old.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Downey's scruffy, comedically nimble turn and Strong's glowering charisma go a long way to redeem the half-coherent storytelling and occasionally elephantine production. McAdams and Law seem in a bit over their heads, but Ritchie's Victorian London looks appropriately crowded and filthy, and Holmes and Watson's bickering couple-shtick provides the minimal level of witty banter. The game's afoot, even though it's not so fresh.