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Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Title: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

What Sort Of Shadows? The ones thrown by extraordinarily large explosions, apparently.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two Otto von Bismarcks out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Eccentric consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) attempts to thwart the plans of the fiendish Prof. Moriarty (Jared Harris) with the aid of old friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) and a mysterious Gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace).

Noomi Rapace? Is There Any Nudity? Yes, but it ain't the kind you're hoping for.

Meaning? Let's just say we get to know Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) rather more intimately than we'd like.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Someone is inciting unrest between the Great Powers of Germany and France. A series of seemingly unrelated incidents -- the death of an Indian cotton tycoon, bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna -- may be more connected than they seem. At least, Sherlock Holmes seems to think so. And his investigation leads to criminal mastermind (and Cambridge professor) James Moriarty. Enlisting his reluctant (and recently married) partner Watson, a fortune teller named Sim, and his equally eccentric brother (and government operative) Mycroft, Holmes races across the Continent in a desperate attempt to avert a global conflagration.

"Critical" Analysis: Guy Ritchie's first foray into the world of A. Conan Doyle's famous detective had two things going for it: It made Victorian England not look entirely like a coal-polluted haven for prostitute murderers, and it benefited greatly from renewed interest in Robert Downey Jr., who was the early 2000s version of Charlie Sheen. 2009's Sherlock Holmes was an irreverent romp that loosened the collar of the World's Greatest Detective (sorry, Batman), and was quite a bit of fun to watch.

Less heralded, and released the next year, was the BBC's Sherlock, a new series starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit). Offering a modern-day version of Baker Street's most famous resident, the show was a critical favorite, though probably seen by 1/100 of the number who watched Ritchie's movie.

I bring this up because Cumberbatch's Sherlock engages in something we see this latest movie version doing very little of: detecting.

This may only be of concern to fans of Doyle's original stories (among whose ranks I count myself), but while Downey Jr.'s Holmes shares his literary forebear's vast esoteric knowledge (and knowledge of obscure fighting arts), and did a fair amount of sleuthing in the original, there's hardly any on display in Game of Shadows. Early in the film we see a map Holmes has constructed connecting Moriarty with various crimes and schemes, ODESSA-style, but no indication is given of how he connected the dots. More time is given to showcasing Holmes's clairvoyant battle skills (twice as many times as in the original) and blowing things up in slow motion.

A little of this Zack Snyder-ization of action movies went a long way in the first movie, but Ritchie can't seem to help himself anymore. The action set-pieces are bigger, longer and louder than anything we saw before. Which, I guess, is in keeping with Moriarty's overall scheme (destabilization of the Continent, leading to world war). There are bombs and lobbed artillery shells aplenty, but lost amidst all the chaos is much of the back-and-forth between Downey Jr. and Law (and Rachel McAdams, whose appearance in this film amounts to little more than a cameo).

In sticking closely to his formula from the first movie, Ritchie unfortunately adds nothing new. Harris gives a nicely malevolent performance, while Rapace -- playing a Gypsy with knife skills and little overall connection to the plot -- is mostly wasted. And really, Game of Shadows reminded me of nothing so much as another lackluster sequel released this year: The Hangover, Part 2. Watching the movie, you get that same sense of traveling well-worn ground (or, to put it less charitably, milking a successful formula for every last red cent). It was tedious enough that I almost found myself nodding off a couple times, and I like explosions.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Rent it. At least then you'll be home on your couch if you fall asleep.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is in theaters today. And the BBC's excellent Sherlock is on Netflix Streaming. Just sayin'.


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