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Watson Keeps Entertaining Sherlock Holmes Chugging Along

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2009 25 Dec
Watson Keeps Entertaining <i>Sherlock Holmes</i> Chugging Along

DVD Release Date:  March 30, 2010 
Theatrical Release Date:  December 25, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material)
Genre:  Mystery, Action/Adventure
Run Time:  128 min.
Director:  Guy Ritchie
Actors:  Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, William Hope

In a year of popular franchise extensions (harry potter and the half-blood prince) and reboots (star trek), who would have thought that the most satisfying entertainment of the lot would be a reinvention of Sherlock Holmes?

Popularized on film decades ago by Basil Rathbone and brought briefly back to the screen in the mid-1980s courtesy of producer Steven Spielberg and director Barry Levinson (The Young Sherlock Holmes), the cerebral detective wouldn't seem to have much of a niche to carve out among today's spectacle-driven audience, dominated by teens who have, at best, read one or two Holmes stories as part of their English classes.

Leave it to action producer Joel Silver (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, The Matrix) to help bring the tale back to movie screens, with the title character reinvented as a Fight Club hobbyist who studies and practices the most effective body blows for defeating opponents twice his size.

Yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective has been reinvented for the jason bourne age—toned, good-looking and able to fight and win in fisticuffs or mind games with opponents who are imposing, to say the least. Adding to all the brawn and brains is a dash of romance with a former lady love, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). But the main chemistry is between Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law), a sidekick who just can't kick the habit of helping Holmes solve another case.

The story opens as the duo finishes their supposed final case together. Watson, preparing to marry his fiancée (Kelly Reilly), is also moving his office from Holmes' digs at 221B Baker St., much to the chagrin of those who will be left behind with the erratic Holmes. The detective spends his evenings firing his pistol into his wall and otherwise creating a sense of dread and unease among the other residents.

Dread and unease define the mood of many Londoners who have come to believe that Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong)—executed for the murders of several women—has returned from the grave. Blackwell's whispered warning to Holmes about impending spiritual chaos following his death appears to be playing out. Through the overtures of Adler, who is rumored to be Holmes' equal in intellect, or perhaps his superior, Holmes is drawn into the mystery surrounding Blackwell.

The tale takes on macabre, even occult elements as it explores a secret society that Blackwell heads up, and his grandiose plans to reclaim the American colonies and conquer the world.

If the film has a notable misstep, it comes in keeping Watson off-screen for much of the story's final stretch. The playful tension between Holmes and Watson that defines the film's first half isn't matched by the interplay between Holmes and Adler, or Holmes and Blackwell. Only after Watson re-emerges does the film get back on track, building to an exciting, if predictable, finale.

Sherlock Holmes includes some disturbing spiritual material, and Holmes' ambivalence (at best) about religious faith is only reaffirmed in this tale. However, given the villain's religious hubris, the story's ending proves more satisfactory than offensive (Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 11:2). This is a well-made entertainment, with the promise of even better chapters to come.

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  • Language/Profanity:  "Good G-d!"; "d-mn."
  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Cigar and pipe smoking; wine is poured and consumed; men drink to their allegiance; a ship captain is said to drink like a fish.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Woman shown taking off a towel; we see only her upper back; Holmes is shown naked, cuffed to a bed, with a pillow covering his groin area; Holmes removes Watson's belt and says, "Don't get excited"; Holmes says he's woken up before in handcuffs, naked.
  • Violence/Crime:  Guns are loaded and fired; a man with a dagger is restrained from committing violence; a bare-knuckles brawl in a ring between two men; body blows are shown in slow motion, with voiceover narration describing the science behind why the wounds are particularly crippling; a jail guard writhes on the ground, apparently possessed; a man is hanged, accused of the deaths of multiple women; Holmes leaps out of a high window; a woman puts a knife to a man's neck and fights off his accomplice; a corpse in a coffin is shown with maggots on his face; frog dissection shown; multiple electric shocks are given; a man drowns; a man fires a gun, bursts into flame and falls out a window; pig carcasses are sawed in half, and a woman nearly suffers the same fate; a tripwire triggers several explosions; a neck wound is shown up close; fingers are cut and blood drips as part of ceremony; a kick to the groin; a headbutt; Holmes appears to have hanged himself but turns out to be studying how to appear to hang oneself without actually doing it; a corpse is shown by a sewer.
  • Gambling:  A brief reference to Watson's fondness for gambling and to his claim that he's reformed.
  • Marriage:  Watson is engaged and worries that Holmes may prevent his nuptials; Holmes tells a woman he's just met that, based on the details of her appearance, she's between husbands.
  • Religion:  Blackwell reads from Revelation and promises spiritual chaos; later, after his death, a man claims to have seen him walking in the cemetery resurrected; drawings on a wall include religious imagery; a palm-reader reads a man's palm; a man exclaims, "Blackwood lives, and devil walks with him!" and another says, "Blackwood's come back from hell and laid a curse upon this land"; a member of a secret society, the Temple of the Four Orders, speaks of their "faith" and of Blackwood's conception during one of their religious rituals, as well as of supernatural powers that were enhanced through Blackwood's killing of several women; Holmes says he finds modern religion "troubling"; Blackwood claims Revelation 1:18 as speaking about himself; "the devil's due a soul," a character explains; a man falls to his death.