‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’: The audience loses this game

December 15, 2011

What can you say about Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” that wasn’t said previously about Ritchie’s Baker Street reboot from 2009, “Sherlock Holmes”?

That it’s bigger, louder and more expensive? That’s hardly a shock from a sequel. Indeed, it’s kind of de rigueur, right?

How about the fact that it really wasn’t called for? Again, not an unusual response with a sequel, particularly a sequel to a movie like this one’s predecessor.

The latter film was splashy, noisy and nonsensical. It also had virtually nothing to do with the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, aside from stealing the names of the two central characters.

Neither does “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” a generic big-budget action film of mind-numbing pointlessness. It is not just a movie in which you can zone out for long stretches without really missing anything; this film forces you to do so. It should be advertised as the world’s loudest somnolence-inducer.

The villain this time is none other than Prof. James Moriarty (Jared Harris), Holmes’ most notorious antagonist in the books. His plot here involves pitting France against Germany in 1891, so that their border skirmishes lead to an all-out world war, from which Moriarty will profit handsomely.

It’s enacted with the same jokiness that marred the first one, with Robert Downey Jr. barely tethering himself to the time period or story. He endlessly winks at the camera as the plot hopscotches from London to Paris to Zurich, in hopes that more scenery and movement will disguise how little is actually going on here.

The action is a blend of super-slow-mo martial arts, super-slow-mo bullets flying and other scenes of super-slow-mo action, occasionally speeding up to normal or even super-fast speed before zooming back down to – yes, you guessed it – super slow-mo.

Oh, yes, there’s a subplot: Dr. Watson (Jude Law) gets married and Professor Moriarty tries to distract Holmes from his real plot by targeting the doctor and his new bride for death. Which actually seems like it would be OK with Holmes, who is against the marriage anyway.

As for the series’ trademark – those slow-mo recreations in Holmes’ imagination detailing each action we’re about to see before it happens – well, so what? It’s a visual solution that Ritchie came up with in the first film for how to capture Holmes’ mental acuity. This time, it merely seems like a crutch.

Once upon a time, Guy Ritchie was a maker of smart, hectic and visually inventive gangster movies of independent means and exceptional imagination. But his wit seems to curdle into something predictable and corny when he gets the kind of millions in production funds that he’s obviously been handed here.

This is big-budget studio product – and the product is pure twaddle. It’s attention-deficit-disorder filmmaking that barely qualifies as a movie.

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