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Sherlock Holmes gets the Guy Ritchie makeover in this largely entertaining piece of blended fiction – part detective story, part supernatural frightener, part Victorian gothic. Gone are Sir Basil Rathbone's deer-stalker hats along with his uptight, steely British countenance of yore. This is nuts-and-bolts Hollywood style with all the required fizz and frivolity for ADD audiences of the digital age. It's also Guy Ritchie, so punch-ups and put-downs are never far behind.

At the film's core is a simmering tension between Holmes and his trusty aide Dr Watson. The pair flirt and carry-on like the old couple they are, made worse by a trial separation (Watson is soon to marry and is moving to new rooms). Holmes is convinced it will be the end of the man he cares about. This is the foundation on which a rip-roaring screenplay (from the writers of Mr and Mrs Smith, Invictus and X-Men 3) is based. Convicted felon Lord Blackwood (a moody Mark Strong) rises from the dead to terrorise London, and with fellow members of a sinister cult, plans usurping the Empire. Holmes smells a rat while Watson smells another, a devious American (Rachel McAdams) and former acquaintance of the famous detective. Things get complicated.

Unfortunately for Ritchie, it's these complications that prove to be his undoing. Handed a nicely layered script with enough emotional turmoil and set pieces for a tidy blockbuster, he (or his scriptwriters) feel the need to explain themselves every step of the way. Whilst it underlines the cleverness of the world's greatest sleuth, it also tears apart the tension they labour to build. It takes a while to dispel that initial head of steam, fortunately, yet dissolve it does in a surplus of time, reverting to a series of predictable chases and punch-ups. Staged big mind you, but staged none the less. Holmes and Watson's heartfelt concerns are thus rendered as deep as a pop song.

Though given a much lesser part, Downey Jnr reignites the comic bravado that worked so well in Ironman. He and Law are a good match, and Ritchie's bold production has a thrilling sense of time and place (vertigo-inducing cameras flying around an under-construction Tower Bridge for instance), even if grimy old London Town often assumes a distracting digital iridescence. Sherlock Holmes is watchable in a familiar way, but work needs to be done if they're to successfully reopen the case in an inevitably flagged Sherlock Holmes: 2.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks