Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never imagined his cerebral London detective as a ball-busting action hero. But director Guy Ritchie did. And he’s persuaded Robert Downey Jr. to mainline testosterone. You never saw Basil Rathbone, the best movie Holmes, or Jeremy Brett, the best TV Holmes, strip down in a freestyle-fight ring. You do here. Even old Dr. Watson is a scrapper in the studly person of Jude Law. Ritchie directs with the kind of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gusto that’s meant to batter you into submission.
The time is 1891, and the place is still London, but Ritchie can’t be bothered with period details, especially dialogue. Noticing that the villainousLord Blackwood (Mark Strong) has scratched bloody messages all over his filthy prison cell, Holmes quips, “Love what you’ve done with the place.” Holmes scholars will cry their eyes out over this update from hell. Rachel McAdams is mere window dressing as a mystery woman from Holmes’ past. In place of romance, we get cheesy computer effects (that collapsing bridge — please). Ritchie is all about the whooshing and headbanging, leaving no space between Holmes’ words to savor their meaning. Downey is irresistible. The movie, not so much.