Just as the “reinvented” James Bond owes much to Jason Bourne, the latest big screen incarnation of Sherlock Holmes owes a debt to the CSI franchise and… House, MD. The creators of House said they wanted their title character to be a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, solving medical mysteries, and the original character was based on a physician noted for his extraordinary powers of observation and deduction. Holmes plays the violin, House plays electric guitar. Holmes used opium and morphine to “settle his restless mind” between cases, House was addicted to Vicodin. They both live in apartment 221-B and their closest—and it seems, only—friends are medical doctors. “Purists” may quibble over the apparent liberties taken with this new Holmes and Watson; they are noticeably more attractive and buff than any of their predecessors and are brawlers as much as detectives. But the casual image of the pair is derived from the classic 1940s films with Basil Rathbone as the purely intellectual Holmes and Nigel Bruce as his often-befuddled sidekick. But Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories mention Holmes’ skills as a bare-knuckle fighter and his acquaintance with Japanese martial arts, and Watson was a veteran of the Afghan War (yes, there was one a century ago, too) and… he did graduate med school. Traditionally Holmes explains his brilliant deductions at the end of the story; knowing modern audiences would walk out on this, we get to see Holmes’ mind at work in real-time, plotting out strategies then flawlessly executing them and CSI—like recreations of the things he’s deduced. And the relationship between this Holmes and Watson is more one of equals, a fine bromance that will seem very familiar to those who follow the exploits of House and Wilson each week.

The story is pretty intelligent, moving along briskly, action-packed and funny with no gratuitous violence (but lots of property damage). It really shines in its treatment of the supporting characters: they have fully-realized lives and personalities and are not just standing around to be dazzled by Holmes’ brilliance. The only problems I had with it was its take on Irene Adler, “the woman” in Sherlock’s life. She is portrayed as cunning, resourceful, an expert shot, a skilled fighter, slightly amoral—all in all a perfect match for Holmes, but a little too contemporary. You wonder how a Victorian woman happened to acquire this particular skill set. And in the end, the story, for all its cleverness, is right out of the Scooby-Doo scrapbook. But the movie is too much fun to let these minor quibbles spoil it. The stage is set for the next film, Holmes’ showdown with his arch nemesis, London’s Napoleon of Crime, and his apparent death—and return in the following sequel. If the next films follow this one’s example, it should be an enjoyable trilogy.

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