The game is afoot, indeed.
The thought of a big-budget take on “Sherlock Holmes,” directed by Guy Ritchie of all people, conjured up visions of “Wild Wild West” – or worse.
But the film became one of 2009’s final box office smashes and set up yet another franchise.
And, shock of all shocks, deservedly so. That is if you can swallow Holmes’ makeover into a man of action and intellect.
“Sherlock Holmes,” out on Blu-ray and DVD March 30, reinvents Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth, making him more palatable to today’s action starved audiences.
This Holmes (Downey, Jr.) is just as comfortable using his fists as he is his mind, but the actor never lets the former outweigh the latter.
In fact, in every scene Sherlock looks tormented by his brilliance. It’s a remarkably sly component of the actor’s performance, one mixing angst with an indomitable fighting spirit.
Holmes and Watson get tangled up with the mysterious case of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a sort of super villain charged with a series of murders. He’s captured by Holmes and trusty sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) early on and sentenced to death. But Blackwood rises from the dead via the Dark Arts to confound the city and challenge Holmes and Watson anew.
This Sherlock Holmes is a bare knuckled brawler in his spare time, but even while dodging blows his mind is racing, always racing. Somehow Downey, Jr. teases the new physical elements into Holmes’ intellectual fold.
The actor, adopting yet another distinct persona as well as a capable British accent, radiates quirk intelligence in a way few peers could. His Holmes is a mess emotionally, one who deeply needs Watson but can’t express it any meaningful fashion. When he lets loose on Watson’s betrothed it’s a thing of ugly beauty to behold.
Law serves up his most entertaining screen work in ages as the fussy Watson. Maybe studios are wasting their time casting him as the lead in movies like “Repo Men.” As a second fiddle he’s quite compelling, a reminder of his brilliant turn in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
The film’s set design is a consistent triumph, as is a musical score chock full of whimsy and wonder.
Yet the story sludges forward at times, lacking the whipsmart attention to detail found elsewhere.
The biggest shock in “Sherlock Holmes” involves the man behind the camera. Ritchie burst onto the movie scene with his bristling gangster dramas, but it soon became clear he gave little thought to characters and story.
It was all about bravado, the signature camera tics and tough guy posturing that took the place of narrative cohesion in his films.
Here, Ritchie summons skills he never displayed before to tell this story, and the glorious Blu-ray presentation only magnifies his achievement. It’s nothing less than glorious on a 1080p set.
So it’s even more of a shame to see a misused, miscast Rachel McAdams playing Holmes’ love interest. An older, savvier actress might have given some depth to the underweight role.
The Blu-ray package bristles with tasty extras, from the unique martial arts in the film came to be – a combination of several techniques guided by Doyle’s test – to how Downey, Jr. captured the essential Holmes accent.
Other goodies include “Reinventing Sherlock Holmes,” a look at creating a world of the past and a feature allowing Ritchie to pop in and out to detail key elements in the movie.