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It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at the Culture Bodega. I’ve been catching up on all the movies I did not have a chance to see throughout the year plus some new ones for the first round of voting for the Chicago Film Critics Association‘s Awards. I will be reviewing some of these films for CityVida and some for this blog.

I’ve also been thinking about how should I stock this bodega de la cultura. After your amazing response to my Calle 13 entry, there is no doubt in my mind that I should not only stock it with my very personal take on current cultural phenomenons but that this bodega is also the ideal platform to introduce you to new sights and sounds and to interesting trends. I also want to stock the bodega with some oldies but goodies, that is, pieces that I wrote and were published elsewhere about a specific movie, book, record or artist. These pieces will usually be tied in to a current release or trend.

I kick off this occasional series with a review of the first “Sherlock Holmes” movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, originally published in 2009 in the now defunct website of the equally defunct Café Magazine. You can read my review for its much better sequel, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shawdows” at CityVida.

A Sherlock Holmes for the ADD Generation
“His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing…and his thin, hawklike nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.” That is how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle physically described his immortal creation Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet,” the detective’s first adventure.

Now, let me ask you: does that sound in any way, shape or form like Robert Downey, Jr.? The description certainly fits to a “t” some of the actors who have immortalized the role in the big and small screens: Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Nicol Williamson and, my personal favorite, Jeremy Brett. Downey does capture Holmes’ restlessness, his insatiable curiosity, his penchant for preserving every scrap of paper that may seem useful in the future.  But in director Guy Ritchie’s and producer Joel Silver’s conception of the character, Holmes becomes an ADD-afflicted manchild rather than the brilliant, arrogant, crime-fighting intellectual Conan Doyle created.

Ritchie and his cohorts are not the first to stray from the Holmes canon. In the 70s, novelist and filmmaker Nicholas Meyer wrote three delightful Holmes novels: “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” “The West End Horror,” and “The Canary Trainer”, the first of which was adapted to the big screen. Bob Clarke, he of “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story” fame, took a stab at Holmes with the film “Murder by Decree,” where the famed detective and his partner in crime Dr. John Watson went after Jack the Ripper. And way before then, Basil Rathbone was fighting Nazis as Sherlock Holmes.

This time around Holmes must save Britain from the evil clutches of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong whose resemblance to the literary Holmes is uncanny), a serial killer and Satanist whom Holmes helped arrest and saw hang in the film’s opening sequence. And that’s pretty much it as far as plot goes. The rest of the film is devoted to Holmes trying to sabotage Watson’s (Jude Law) upcoming marriage to Mary, Holmes’ love for down and dirty boxing, his trying to figure out what role former lover and foe Irena Adler (Rachel MacAdams) plays in Blackwood’s plot and who is pulling her strings. No Holmes movie would be complete without Moriarty and it should not surprise anyone that he is Adler’s puppetmaster. What should surprise those in the audience savvy enough to pay attention to such nuances is how much Moriarty sounds like Brad Pitt (and, indeed, there are rumors galore that Pitt will be playing Moriarty in an eventual sequel.  Egads. Perish the thought.)

Holmes and Watson are portrayed by Downey and Law as a bickering couple and their scenes together are the only thing worth recommending about this film. Downey and Law have fun playing around the idea that this is more than a partnership: this is actually a marriage and that Holmes would be lost without Watson and that Watson finds something seductively attractive about Holmes’ errant ways. They are, in Downey’s and Law’s hands, the granddaddies of such “buddy cop” movies like the “Lethal Weapon” series (no surprise there, since that series was also produced by Joel Silver). This is a boy’s world where women play either a supporting role or become just another enigmatic figure.

Yet, I have serious issues with this modern take on Holmes. We rarely perceive his keen, deductive powers and in those rare occasions that we do, Downey spits the dialogue in an incomprehensible rattle drowned by a faux British accent.

Although the action sequences offer nothing new (except for Holmes’ analytical voice-over explaining and showing in slow motion how he will methodically vanquish his adversary in a mano a mano contest to then move to the actual execution in real time) and some of the CGI is rather dodgy, the film is visually stunning. Ritchie has recreated the muddy, dirty, grungy look of Victorian London in all its chaotic glory. One could even say that the look of the film mirrors the script’s equally murky plot.

But if the intention was to introduce Holmes to a new audience, why not go back to the original source? There was enough action (of the physical and intellectual kind) in those tales to satisfy the needs of a long running franchise.