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"SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS"
(2011) (Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure: A legendary detective and his physician sidekick set out to stop a villain from starting a world war in the late 19th century.
PLOT:
It's 1891 and a series of bombings are escalating tension between Germany and France, something not only welcomed but also plotted by the dastardly Professor James Moriarty (JARED HARRIS) who would financially profit from any related war expenses. Legendary if eccentric detective Sherlock Holmes (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.) is pretty such he's the culprit, but needs further proof. Unfortunately, his former sidekick, Dr. John Watson (JUDE LAW), is busy preparing to settle down and wed Mary (KELLY REILLY), something that doesn't seem natural to Holmes.

Accordingly, he doesn't invite anyone to Watson's stag party other than his own brother, Mycroft Holmes (STEPHEN FRY), who has ties to politicians of the day. He's also after gypsy fortune teller Simza (NOOMI RAPACE) who he believes knows something about what's occurring. After Holmes saves her from an assassin, and manages to dispatch Mary to stay with Mycroft, he, Watson and Simza set off not only to prove that Moriarty is behind the bombings and recent assassinations, but also stop him from starting a war.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Toward the end of "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" -- the expected sequel to the unexpectedly huge 2009 "Sherlock Holmes" -- the lead villain explains his motives (as such antagonists oft do in the third act of whatever film in which they appear) to the hero. While he's obviously an egotistical bad guy with no remorse about his actions, his behavior up to this point in the film is purely capitalistic (sort of like the film in which he appears).

With the world -- of 1891 -- on the verge of war between France and Germany, Professor James Moriarty (a good Jared Harris) -- who was mostly absent from the first flick despite being the villain most associated with the famous literary and cinematic detective -- is simply being an opportunistic businessman. He comments on mankind's insatiable desire for conflict and thus has set his goals to make a lot money from every angle of war he can imagine.

Of course, conflict not only is good for drama, but is also a requirement to engage viewers. What most audiences will likely come away with after watching this 130-some minute sequel, however, is that returning director Guy Ritchie apparently has an insatiable desire to make the same movie over and again. Granted, the likes of "RocknRolla," "Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and of course, this movie's predecessor are different in their own right in terms of storyline, characters and such.

But they all look and feel roughly the same as highly stylized action pics where the onscreen action is shot with super high shutter speeds as well as in varying degrees of slow motion, hyper-editing, and extreme and intricate close-ups of mechanical processes, such as bullets or other munitions being loaded, fired and delivered. Simply put, it's a love of mayhem, not to mention the world of super slow-mo viewing.

I once found much of that fairly fun and/or cool to behold, and even noted as much in the last "Sherlock" film. For some reason, though, much of that feels old, recycled and fairly redundant this time around. In fact, beyond one such instance of that late in the film -- where characters are running through the woods as all sorts of deadly projectiles zip by them, annihilate trees and so on -- as well as the finale confrontation between the hero and villain, I found myself quite bored regarding what was unfolding.

Sure, there's the return of the lively, antagonistic as filtered through friendship banter between the seemingly near-field clairvoyant Baker Street detective (a returning Robert Downey Jr.) and his somewhat more refined doctor sidekick (Jude Law, also reprising his role), as well as the fairly eccentric inventions of the former that fueled much of the earlier film (here, they mostly show up as a bevy of human and otherwise inert disguises). Yet, the far more engaging qualities of that last time mostly feel trite in this second outing.

With Rachel McAdams' character from the first film only appearing at the beginning of this one, Ritchie and married scribes Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney add a new lady to the mix (Kelly Reilly is also present, returning as Watson's new bride in a subplot that does little for the plot). The newcomer is Noomi Rapace, who starred in the original version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and plays a gypsy here who may know something about the villain's plan. While her introduction allows for -- wait for it -- another extended fight scene and a reason to keep the story moving forward, the actress is mostly wasted here, as is Stephen Fry as Holmes' brother.

Considering that Moriarty is presented as the detective's equal, the filmmakers really should have focused more on their encounters. There are a few scenes of that -- including the aforementioned finale that includes, natch, a chess match between them, and comes off as the highlight of the flick -- but the plot could have used a lot more of that and less of what's otherwise pretty much highly stylized filler.

Downey is once again appealing as the title character, despite (or perhaps because of) usually appearing with any number of cuts, bruises, black eyes and more that leave him looking anything but debonair or resembling what old school Holmes' purists think of their beloved character. Law is also decent, and the two once again have a good chemistry together. I just wish the writing was up to the task of keeping up with them, especially considering the absence of McAdams' character this time around.

While it has its moments, overall I found myself bored more often than engaged with what was occurring. That's never a good thing, and that's why "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 12, 2011 / Posted December 16, 2011


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