Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie's new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes comes with two surprises: 1) the story, though dull, at least makes sense and doesn't flail out of Ritchie's limited grasp and 2) the film recasts Holmes and his life-partner Dr. Watson as the most blatantly homosexual pair of screen idols this side of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist. I hesitate to use the word 'subtext', though that is technically where the gayness lies; the homosexuality is never explicit, unless you count the pet names "Old Cock" and "Mother Hen" as 'explicit'.

I have to wonder if the two leads, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, decided to see if they could pull this off without telling anyone. (I can envision the two of them meeting at a pub the night before production began to wager their paychecks on whether or not Ritchie would catch on.) The two of them are playing in a different film than all the other actors, although the script does seem to back them up: Watson is moving out - the two men share a flat - and in with a woman whom he intends to marry. Neither seems particularly thrilled with this - there is no chemistry between Watson and his fiancée, and the marriage for both is decidedly convenient. Holmes in particular is facing a rapid descent into depression, drug-addiction and alcoholism. He proceeds to prank the happy heterosexual couple throughout the film with varying degrees of taste.

In fact, Holmes' and Watson's relationship follows a pretty standard rom-com arc. It begins with the other woman, whose presence leads to hijinks of an increasingly bitter nature. This results in Watson giving Holmes the silent treatment for most of the second act of the film, until Holmes lures him back into his heart with a delicately choreographed re-enactment of one of their favorite dates (in this case: solving murders). Finally they team up once more to bring down the bad guy - you kind of hope Watson will refer to Sherlock as "Shirley" during their sweet rekindling.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. The flirtation between Downey and Law is pretty much the only interesting thing the movie has to offer. I suppose it's worth mentioning that if homosexuality ever does become acceptable in mainstream culture, we stand to lose a great wellspring for subversion.

Oh, yeah: there's some complicated business involving a bad guy with a plot to take over the world. Lord Blackwood wants to take over the Parliament so that he might stage a coup to regain control of "the colonies" across the Atlantic (nefarious!) and he's going to do it with a biological weapon that will incite fear in the common people (relevant!).

Sherlock Holmes, we may recall, is allegedly a detective of some kind. Most of the detective work we witness involves deducing how best to beat up henchmen. Apart from this, there are a few revelations of the indecipherable-jargon variety and some plot twists that just don't qualify. Why, if you're trying to surprise your audience with a dead villain's resurrection, would you set up the action by showing Holmes drugging his bulldog into a sedated state which, to the very same doctor that will pronounce the bad guy deceased, is indistinguishable from death?

The bulk of the film is loud, obnoxious action perforated by lengthy spans of tedious exposition. It's really quite boring, although it provides one of the more impressive motivations I've found in a while to make me wish the two leads would just quit bantering and make out already. As homoerotic tension goes, the movie is something to behold. If you're looking for anything else - an action-packed holiday thrill ride for the family, for example - go with Avatar.


  1. What a perfectly lovely review. I agree with my whole heart. I'm sending it to my brother. We attended to curmudgeon it to death, but couldn't muster the interest even for that.

    It's a mark of Guy Ritchie's incredibly poor taste that, when gifted with a PERFECTLY WONDERFUL SUPER VILLAIN, one of the best and most devious of all time, he opted instead to make up a wretched one void of all narative tension because you know, from the first, that anything miraculous he accomplishes must be fake.

  2. I agree: it is remarkable that Professor Moriarty would come across as such an afterthought. I wonder who will play him in the sequel. Who would most plausibly seduce Jude Law just to piss off RDJ?