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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


By all rights, I should have hated Sherlock Holmes. Not only was it directed by Guy Ritchie - who has never made a movie I've even remotely liked up until now - but it also dared to reinvent the classic Arthur Conan Doyle character as an action hero. The film was released in theaters while I was on vacation last Christmas, and I didn't hasten to catch it upon my return, for the very reasons mentioned above. For the March 30 DVD release, I finally sat down to give it a fair shake; I was pleasantly surprised. While no classic, Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes is definitely a lot of fun.

Robert Downey, Jr. assumes the title role. His Holmes is brilliant at deducing clues, and also at bar brawling. He does both a lot. With the help of right-hand man Watson (Jude Law), Holmes sets out to investigate the apparent resurrection of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a killer who seemingly was executed for his crimes but continues to walk around creating havoc. The search leads them to a mystery cult that practices dark arts and may be using some new technology to further their evil purposes.

Along the way, Holmes also crosses paths with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), his former flame. With her help, he realizes that Blackwood may be planning something particularly sinister. Holmes isn't so sure he buys the villain's whole invincibility thing. A series of clues obviously leads him to solve the case, but not before facing down a hulking muscleman, escaping death at a ship factory, and fighting Blackwood atop the under-construction London Bridge.

I'm not sure that the supernatural mystery at the center of Sherlock Holmes is as satisfying as a more realistic one would have been, although that's hardly a deal-breaker. The film tinkers with the formula while still retaining enough of the essentials to work. Not only are there some very obvious clues, but plenty of more subtle ones as well. I was particularly hooked in the grand finale, when lots of things I thought were inconsequential turned out to be the very things Holmes uses to solve the case. The mystery works, as it should.

Casting Robert Downey in the role was an act of genius. He's an actor who always seems to have the wheels in his head turning, so it's no stretch to imagine him as a detective. At the same time, Downey is - how do I say this? - eccentric enough to convey the kind of loopy brilliance a master sleuth would almost certainly have to possess. I love how, in every role, the actor thrives on making unexpected choices in his performance; he does it again here, taking a very familiar character and making it all his own.

Guy Ritchie gives the movie all kinds of cool visuals, plus a handful of first-rate action sequences, most notably the aforementioned bridge fight. I always found his previous films show-offy - heavy on style but light on substance. Directing a screenplay he did not write, Ritchie finally finds a plot worth bringing his style to. The whole movie is kind of old-fashioned but also kind of modern at the same time, and I think that contrast is a big part of its appeal.

Sherlock Holmes leaves the door wide open for a sequel, which I'd welcome. I think that, with the new tone and basics now established, the possibility is there to make a second installment that's even better than the first. Never in a million years did I think this movie would work; it does, and it's really entertaining.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

Sherlock Holmes is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on demand starting March 30.

The sole DVD feature is a 16-minute behind-the-scenes feature called "Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented." Downey, Ritchie, and producer Joel Silver all talk about bringing a new feel to a beloved character. The segment doesn't really offer any amazing insights; it's essentially a typical promotional piece. Watchable, but not vital.

Sherlock Holmes is rated PG-13 for thematic material including violence, disturbing images and a scene of suggestive material. The running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.

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