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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams

BRAINS OF EUROPE: Jude Law as Watson and Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes in the film’s second installment. Courtesy photo.

Iliked the first Sherlock Holmes film. Hardly the most reverent of adaptations, but it was entertaining and had a certain manic charm thanks in part to sharp casting. Robert Downey Jr. makes for an unconventional Sherlock Holmes who plays the character as a tortured genius. Jude Law is the more grounded but equally different take as Doctor Watson. Thanks to the chemistry between the leads and some whip-cracking direction from Guy Ritchie (“Snatch”), we end up with a kind of mystery-action film set in the 19th century.

I found myself watching the original a few times on HBO. It was one of those movies I turned on halfway through and ended up watching ‘til the end. Sure, there are flaws. The plot is a little nonsensical, and the element of mystery and surprise seems less important than setting up scenes relying on Holmes to punch someone in the face, preferably in slow motion.

Holmes’ greatest nemesis, Professor Moriarty, has begun a dangerous game of cat and mouse that involves the takeover of munitions factories and the potential assassination of a European leader, which could be the spark that sets off a massive war. Holmes is already on Moriarty’s trail when his on-again, off-again con-artist girlfriend Irene (Rachel McAdams) becomes the latest victim of this deadly game. Holmes takes off on a cross-country trek to match with a mind that may be superior to his own. Though the second installment of the movie feels more forced than the first, the stakes are seemingly higher. The threat of looming war is nothing more than another piece to be played in an intellectual chess game.

The story is kind of a head-scratcher—and not always in a good way. The connective tissue between each element of the mystery is often as confusing to the character as it is to the audience. There are some massive, gaping plot holes. My favorite came from a scene where a room full of important political figures are blown up by a bomb. Holmes and Watson comb over the crime scene and find that someone had been shot just before the place is firebombed. “They used the bomb to cover up the assassination of one man,” Holmes says.

Wait. What? The bomb killed everyone in the room. Why would they need to shoot them in the head, too? I’m no criminal mastermind—at least not yet—but if I’m blowing up a room full of people and shooting them in the head, aren’t I working harder not smarter? Yet, everyone nods and agrees as if that logic somehow lines up. It’s like some kind of Doctor Evil scenario, where someone suggest strapping lasers to the heads of man-eating sharks. This is not the work of a criminal mastermind. These are the machinations of a guy who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “overkill.”

The real show here is Downey and Law who manage to turn two of literature’s most known characters into a Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis “Some Like it Hot”-style romp. It looks like they’re having fun. I wish it was in a movie that made a little more sense. The overall story is weak and the secondary characters are meaningless. I felt sorry for Noomi Rapace who sits in the background trying to look busy. In truth, the only reason these movies work is Downey and Law. They give it their all and the movie is far better off for it. Sometimes actors help save a movie. Sometimes they are the reason a project exists in the first place.

Once again Guy Ritchie pours on a whole lot of action in some impressive over-the-top sequences that are mind-blowing in their execution. One action sequence in particular combines quick cuts, time manipulation and special effects to create something kinetic and crazy. There’s enough of these flourishes to make a second Sherlock Holmes movie a worthwhile effort. It’s very much more of the same. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on how much audiences liked the first one. For me, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is a harmless little diversion saved by a pair of actors working overtime to carry a franchise into further installments. Even if it’s just for the paycheck, they earn every penny.

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