Director Guy Ritchie’s talent for stirring violence and barely concealed homoeroticism remain very much on display in “Sherlock Holmes,” his first period piece and most flagrant effort to start a new franchise. But for all the film’s wit and zing, there’s no momentum — we get a series of stirring, entertaining scenes, but they never add up to a complete story. It’s a series of desserts with no main course.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as an eccentric, cerebral Holmes whose fighting style reminds us why some call boxing “the sweet science.” (One of Ritchie’s coolest moves is to break down the sequence of blows with which Holmes plans to subdue his opponent before the sleuth actually does so.) Holmes’ longtime companion… make that bosom buddy… make that close friend, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), is getting married and moving out of their Baker Street digs, but Holmes barely has time to pout, since it appears that Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a sinister practitioner of the occult, has somehow resurrected himself following his recent execution and is once again terrorizing London.
“Sherlock Holmes” doesn’t expect you to solve the case — there are tons of throwaway moments that wind up being important clues that the movie doesn’t explain until Holmes’ big summation speech at the end — and besides, the real mystery here is how a movie can be so exciting and so inert at the same time.
The presence of Rachel McAdams as a notorious woman from Holmes’ past is also puzzling; she’s an interesting young actress, but completely miscast. For a 19th century dark lady, she’s too much the spunky girl. (Eddie Marsan of “Happy-Go-Lucky” fares better as the bumbling Inspector Lestrade.)
Holmes’ legendary nemesis Professor Moriarty is threaded throughout the film in an obvious set-up for a sequel, and while the chemistry between Downey and Law makes such a prospect promising — Law gives one of his most relaxed and engaging performances ever — whoever’s responsible for “Sherlock Holmes 2: The Quickening” needs to let the characters breathe and the story build in what will, with any luck, be a less frenetic movie than this one.
Some critics are savaging Nancy Meyers’ “It’s Complicated” for being wealth porn in an era of economic downturn, but that hardly seems fair — would you have denied Depression-era audiences such love-among-the-mega-rich spectacles as “Midnight” (1939) or “My Man Godfrey” (1936)?
The movie has a bigger elephant in the room, but more on that in a moment. The farcical plot centers around Jane (Meryl Streep), who kicked out her husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) years earlier for cheating on her. Now, she owns a successful bakery while he has a hot young trophy wife (Lake Bell) and a rambunctious stepson. On a trip to New York for their son’s college graduation, Jane and Jake have a few drinks, get nostalgic and wind up engaging in a mutually satisfying one-night stand.
Suddenly, these friendly exes are sneaking around having an affair, and while Jake considers leaving Wife #2 for the original model, Jane finds herself being courted by Adam (Steve Martin), the nice-guy architect who’s renovating her kitchen. (And this isn’t a “Brothers”-style renovation, where the kitchen goes from non-existent to functional; in Meyers-land, a phenomenal kitchen must be turned into a gargantuan one.)
Here’s the elephant that the movie never addresses: What Jake obviously loves more than either wife is the cheating. He did it to Jane before, and now he’s doing it to the second wife (who has a name, but the movie dehumanizes her so much there’s no point in looking it up). Jane even gets a tacit thumbs-up for the affair from her therapist, but it should be obvious to her that what’s really stoking their liaisons is the fact that they’re on the sly. And the character, as presented (and certainly as portrayed by Streep), should be smart enough to figure that out, especially when Jake starts talking about remarriage.
Streep and Baldwin have tremendous chemistry, while poor Martin does what he can with what amounts to the Ralph Bellamy role, and the three of them make this bit of inconsequential fluff far more fun than it has any right to be. Students of corporate synergy will love the fact that the Universal release features two of NBC’s biggest stars — Baldwin and John Krasinski — blowing pot smoke into each other’s mouths; top that, Disney.