Sherlock Holmes II ✮1/2

A Study in Scarlet (as in embarrassment)

by Glenn Lovell

The smartest thing about “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is the title. After that, it’s business as usual for director Guy Ritchie and star Robert Downey Jr., back as the supercilious sleuth. Suffice to say, this is a singularly joyless endeavor, a murky mishmash of skullduggery, ho-hum CG and formulaic cliff-hanger escapes that would have been old hat around the time of “The Great Train Robbery.”

Downey as Holmes, Law as Dr. Watson

This sequel to “Sherlock Holmes,” Ritchie’s nominal 2009 hit, opened Friday at the Santa Clara’s AMC Mercado 20 and San Jose’s Camera 12, among other local theaters.

If you’ll excuse the pun, Downey guys throughout as Arthur Conan Doyle’s master of disguise and deductive reasoning. For the first two-thirds of this installment, which pits Holmes against archrival Moriarty (Jared Harris), once again bent on bringing Western Civilization to its knees, Downey pulls faces, effects Bruce Lee poses, and slides in and out of a mincing British accent. The overall impression is of Peter Seller in one of his later “Pink Panther” outings.

Jude Law, who as Dr. Watson doubles as Holmes’ whipping boy/chronicler, fares better. Law once again registers mild exasperation at being perpetually left out of the loop and placed in harm’s way. He’s particularly miffed this time around because Holmes seems bent on sabotaging his impending nuptials. Holmes botches the bachelor party, crashed by a Cossack acrobat-assassin, and later, dressed in frat-house drag, tosses the blushing bride (Kelly Reilly) from a fast-moving train.

Of course this frees Watson for one “last adventure” ‒ be still my heart! ‒ that involves anarchists, bombings, a Gypsy fortune teller (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace) and a Swiss peace summit. Where does Moriarty figure in all of this? Once he’s done in Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), that assistant with lingering loyalties to Holmes, Moriarty goads France and Germany into war. Global Armageddon will mean a huge payday because Moriarty, like half the villains in last summer’s superhero marathon, has cornered the market on armaments.

“It’s so overt, it’s covert,” Holmes cheerfully announces.

To be fair, in the homestretch the new installment almost gains traction. It’s enlivened by a telepathic chess match between Holmes and Moriarty and an assassination plot where ‒ shades of Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent”! ‒ one of the visiting dignitaries turns out to be the lurking killer. Watson, in the nick of time, borrows his mentor’s powers of concentration to deduce the answer.

But this is too little too late. To arrive at this juncture, we’ve had to endure too many bad declarations (“You’re not fighting me so much as the human condition”), too many bad disguises (the opium-smoking Chinaman being the most offensive), and too many indifferently staged battles, captured in Ritchie’s customary hopped-up visual style. Holmes doesn’t just pick up on clues, his mind records and analyzes them like a computer collating data. Lest we miss the point, we see the face-offs before they take place, rendered as headache-inducing swish-pans, slow-mo and freeze frames.

When the game’s afoot, this Holmes’s powers of observation are positively paranormal.

“What do you see?” the Gypsy fortune teller asks.

“Everything — that’s my curse.”

No, Mr. Holmes, that’s our curse.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS ✮1/2 With Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry. Directed by Guy Ritchie; scripted by Michele and Kieran Mulroney. 129 min. PG-13 (for violence, sexual innuendoes)

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