REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney (screenplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (novels)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris

Almost nothing goes right in the second installment of Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes, but it’s at least consistent.  His insistence on style over substance is so heavy-handed that it’s hard to see how exactly Robert Downey Jr. can overact, and yet they both find a way to coexist.

As we hop around Europe at the end of the 19th century, Ritchie throws slow motion action sequences at us as Holmes (Downey Jr.) plans them out in his head, and then repeats roughly the same thing when he actually does them.  This kind of overly-stylized repetition shows just how little creativity was brought to the table for this sequel.  Holmes is allegedly facing his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), yet much of their battle of the wits contains as many explosions as a Michael Bay movie.

In between the frantically edited action sequences is a conspiracy plot to start a war so that Moriarty can sell both sides weapons.  Harris brings some welcome menace to the role, but the script, written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney, has this feeble-looking academic fist-fighting with Robert Downey Jr. by the movie’s end.

The grey-tinted European streets are chock-full of atmosphere for the characters to fight in, at least.  As with the first Holmes, the scenery, costumes and music belong in a much better movie.  Downey Jr. manages to deliver his rapid-fire take on the world’s greatest detective and still look bored, and Jude Law as his assistant/bromantic relationship Watson did far more with his one scene in Hugo.

Hopping around Europe with the happy couple is the gypsy Serza Heron (Noomi Rapace), who is there to find out what Moriarty has done with her brother.  Rapace injected what little life there was in the Swedish film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Here, like in the first Holmes, many of Ritchie’s other films and Hollywood studio releases in general, she is the female character that mostly sits and listens.  She gets a couple of good punches in, which is more than can be said of Watson’s new bride (Kelly Reilly), who does little more than bat her eyelashes and be offended at nudity.

That bare bottom she winces at belongs to Stephen Fry, who plays Holmes’ brother Mycroft.  Fry is the most authentic British presence in the movie, and adds a few welcome sardonic digs.  Had the movie included him for reasons other than to offend the lady, it would have at least been more bearable.

Game of Shadows is Downey Jr.’s show, though, no matter how little he or anyone else wants to actually be here.  He moves from disguise to disguise, building little on the character from the first movie and wearily avoiding the homoerotic tension that Rapace was called in to detract from.

Some of the scenes do connect in spite of the lackluster whole, though.  There’s a slow motion escape from a German prison that would’ve been dead-on had Ritchie stopped frantically toying around with the speed.  In addition to that, a sequence in Paris where Holmes is tricked by Moriarty into thinking a bomb has been planted on a stage production of Don Giovanni when it is actually in a hotel across town also stands out.  As Holmes hides under a stage prop, he finds a King piece from a chess board, and sees Moriarty’s sinister glare looking at him from a private box.

Moriarty is a villain that is described by Holmes as doing evil simply because he is capable of it.  The Dark Knight was a movie with a villain like that, and in 2008 it reached heights in quality that few imagined a big studio could still reach.  In the end, Game of Shadows‘ greatest asset is a new trailer for the next movie in that Batman series.

Grade: D

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Zodiac

Zodiac
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: James Vanderbilt (screenplay), Robert Graysmith (book)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and John Carroll Lynch

Unsolved murders haunt us.  As the detective played by Mark Ruffalo remarks at one point in Zodiac, there were 200 murders committed since a serial killer left his brutal mark on the zeitgeist.  Those murders were explained, though, and as a result they are boring to us.

There are several fictionalized versions of the story of The Zodiac Killer, because finding a narrative that rewards a viewer would be daunting and it would miss the point.  This is a story that is not about rewards.  There is obsession laced within every frame of it, driving all of the principal characters and not just the psychopath.  A need for justice, a need to definitively know lies buried beneath the daunting surface of this David Fincher masterwork.

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REVIEW: Due Date

Due Date
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, & Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakias, Michelle Monaghan, and Jamie Foxx

Watching Zach Galifianakias’ Ethan Tremblay, an aspiring actor, act out a scene given to him by Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.)with  amateurism and then turn it into an emotionally-charged turn reminded me of Mulholland Dr. The comparisons with that 2001 masterpiece and this forgettable buddy comedy should end there, but they don’t.  A lot of Todd Phillips’ latest is a hallucinatory road trip filled with drugs, car wrecks, and bizarre tonal changes.  Take my advice, stick with David Lynch.

Phillips could’ve done anything after he sailed away with the box office last summer with The Hangover.  Instead, he decided to recycle his use of Galifianakias as the awkward, sympathetic idiot and pair him with Robert Downey Jr for a road movie based on Plains, Trains and Automobiles.  It’s an appealing match-up ripe with potential, almost none of which is utilized.  The two actors at the center were almost given too much freedom to be themselves, letting their personalities fill in the (many) blanks the script left out both plot-wise and on the laughing front.

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TRAILER: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Theroux (screenplay), Stan Lee (comics)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, and Don Cheadle

Part of what made the first Iron Man such a breath of fresh air was the devotion to excellence from everyone in the cast, most notably Robert Downey Jr. It wasn’t exactly anything new and original, and was overshadowed by Christopher Nolan’s box-office/critical superior The Dark Knight.  This summer, the now-franchise is launching its second installment with no Caped Crusader in sight.

The trailer for the film looks like it will hit all of the summer action bells and whistles.  Downey Jr. reprises his role as the man in iron, as does Gwyneth Paltrow as his love interest and assistant.  The rest of the cast is mostly new.  Don Cheadle steps in for Terrence Howard.  Scarlett Johansson arrives, hopefully to give Paltrow a run for her money, but you can’t tell much from the trailer.

The biggest gripe I have in the casting is Mickey Rourke.  Based on the trailer alone, his character appears corny, badly written, and has a just plain stupid Russian accent.  It may not turn out that way, but it appears that there will be at least one glaring error in the casting.

As far as plot goes, not too much is revealed.  Tony Stark is now out of the closet as a super hero, which may offer some unique takes on the genre.  He’s out to stop Whiplash (Rourke) from taking over the world or something.  The trailer is decent, but the content in it just makes this seem like it will be a typical sequel.

Highs: Downey jumping off an airplane after talking to Paltrow and Downey and Cheadle suiting up together in Iron Man suits.

Lows: Mickey Rourke’s Russian accent/character and the lack of Scarlett Johansson footage.

Trailer Grade: C