Review in a Hurry: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are effortlessly charming as a more action-oriented Holmes and Watson than we're used to. They belong in a better movie than the one Guy Ritchie has actually made.
The Bigger Picture: For the first half hour or so of this new big-screen adventure featuring the literary world's most famous detective, all seems to be going right. Hans Zimmer's score is so perfect you'll think it has always been Holmes' theme, Downey's take on Sherlock as annoyingly obsessive-compulsive is a perfectly valid interpretation and a Satanic cult scenario, featuring a seemingly supernatural scoundrel by the name of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is awesomely gothic.
Yes, director Ritchie arguably overemphasizes the martial artist/bare-knuckle boxer side of Holmes—not to mention a decidedly modern set of six-pack abs—but does so in an entertaining fashion, and technically doesn't violate literary canon by doing so.
But the gaggle of credited screenwriters, one of whom boasts a producer credit on the infamous Vanilla Ice vehicle Cool As Ice, are no match for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They give a pretty good set-up, though: Dr. Watson is on the verge of getting married and leaving his semi-dsyfunctional partnership with the supersleuth behind. But he can't resists the lure of one last case with Holmes, especially since, in his capacity as a surgeon, he's already involved. After declaring the executed Lord Blackwood dead, he learns that the villain has apparently risen from the grave to commit new murders.
Meanwhile, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), well-known to Holmes fans as the only woman capable of outwitting their generally misogynist hero, returns to town with an agenda of her own, in the service of a mysterious malefactor who strongly resembles DC Comics' Gentleman Ghost. This puts her in conflict with both Holmes and Blackwood—or perhaps in a position to play both sides.
It's a story with more potential than your typical big-event, action-hero movie, but unfortunately the way it plays out is less than satisfactory. Practically every scene resolves the dilemmas of the previous one by suddenly introducing brand-new characters and the discovery of yet another hitherto unknown potion that caused whatever mysterious thing it was that happened last.
At one point, Blackwood even utilizes a death trap straight out of the Saw movies! (No kidding—you'll know it when you see it).
Not to mention, the danger of turning Holmes into a master of ass kicking in addition to being a genius somehow takes the suspense out of things. The only person who seems to be a danger to him is himself, and this is probably the principal reason Downey was given the role.
There's nothing wrong with this Holmes that a good story couldn't fix, and plenty of those already exist; chances are few of the moviegoers this is aimed at are intimately familiar with the original Doyle books, so why not actually adapt one properly?
The 180—a Second Opinion: As an oversized henchman, 7-foot former wrestler Robert Maillet (aka "Kurrgan") shows some potential. If they ever sequelize or remake The Princess Bride, he'd be a worthy successor to Andre the Giant.
Sherlock Holmes isn't in there, but see what did make it into our Best of 2009: Movies gallery.