Movie Review: “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”

ImageFor much of the cinema’s history, the movies have had the good sense to keep Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty off camera, an unseen menace made all the more menacing by his absence.

But Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” puts the infamous Professor M. face to face with his foe, Holmes. They quarry, trade threats and play chess. But as the evil genius is played the unimposing Jared Harris (“Mad Men,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), you can’t help but wonder why Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t just dope-slap this shrimp and “crack on.”

It’s not a fatal case of miscasting. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” is still a romp, albeit an overlong one where the rompers romp at the point of a bayonet. But Hitchcock’s maxim, “Good villains make good thrillers” holds true. And since Ritchie burned through his best bad guy — the cunning, cutlery-faced Mark Strong — in his first Holmes film, it’ll have to do.

Downey is more Chaplinesque, more whimsical and more English in this sequel, a two-fisted howitzer-barrelled blast that manages to be lighter, funnier and yet more violent than the first Downey-Ritchie Holmes film. check out the face Downey pulls when Holmes realizes that one sequence of his cross-Europe pursuit of Moriarty will involve riding on horseback.

“They are dangerous at both ends, and crafty in the middle,” he quips, though he’s already landed his laugh with just the look on his face.

Holmes is about to lose his Watson (Jude Law), his perfect foil and bantering partner, to matrimony. And botching the stag party and almost ruining the wedding itself won’t be enough of a send off. It is “our last adventure, Watson. I intend to make the most of it.” That entails derailing the honeymoon.

Holmes has pieced together the puzzle that is the powderkeg of Europe in 1891, and all the fuses lead back to the banal megalomaniac Moriarty. An age of anarchists, Cossack assassins and a new military-industrial complex raises the stakes.

Ritchie takes his Sam Peckinpah slow-motion violence fetish to new extremes, and treats us to more scenes in which Holmes’ peerless powers of concentration and perception give him an almost supernatural ability to play through the variables in a coming fight in his mind before actually martial-artsing his way past legions of evil henchman.

Downey and Law click like a polished comedy team, with Law more than holding his own with Downey’s hilarious excesses. Downey makes us believe that this “manic” (Watson “psychotic”) detective is living on “a diet of coffee, tobacco and coca leaves.” It’s a role informed by the actor’s street cred.

Noomi Rapace leaves her “Dragon Tattoo” behind as a gypsy in search of her anarchist brother, who is mixed up in Moriarty’s plans. And Stephen Fry vamps it up as Holmes’ starchy brother.

If only the recycled Bond-film gadgets and Bond-film plotline didn’t weigh “Game of Shadows” down. If only they’d spent the cash on a bad guy with stature, instead of taking that phrase, “the banality of evil,” so literally. then this “Game” might have been as much fun as they were sure it would be.

 

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

“MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material.

Cast: Robert Downey Jr. Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry

Credits: Directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters. A Warner Brothers release. Running time: 2:09

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