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Sherlock: Case of Evil
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by Jay Seaver

"That this may have been someone's introduction to Holmes makes me cry."
1 stars

The new Sherlock Holmes movie opening this weekend is being characterized as a return to prominence for the character, but the fact of the matter is, he never went away. Characters that combine worldwide name recognition with a public domain status that means royalties need not be paid are endlessly appealing as the potential start of a franchise, and there were no less than four attempts during the 2000s to develop Holmes for television. The most intriguing, sadly, never got off the ground (it would have featured Stephen Fry as Holmes and Hugh Laurie as Watson). Of the ones that did end up before a camera, this pilot from 2002 was probably the most radical reinvention, and one that did not go so well.

It starts off in 1886, with a youthful Sherlock (James D'Arcy) chasing Professor Moriarty (Vincent D'Onofrio) through the streets of London on behalf of a beautiful young woman that the professor has been blackmailing (Gabrielle Anwar). Holmes triumphs, thus making his reputation - a reputation that has one of the city's leading opium merchants (Struan Rodger) seeking to engage him to discover who is killing others in his line of trade. Holmes succeeds, with the help of a young coroner by the name of John Watson (Roger Morlidge), but it all seems rather too pat.

Making a good Sherlock Holmes film (or television series) does not necessarily mean making a close adaptation of the original stories, nor even attempting to follow their chronology. And while a part of the appeal of Holmes and Watson is that as archetypal characters, they can be modified and portrayed in different manners and still be recognizably themselves, you can push them too far. Such as, for example, making Sherlock a fame-seeking ladies' man whose addiction problems involve alcohol rather than cocaine. Or making Watson into Holmes's man inside Scotland Yard who also happens to build useful devices and occasionally makes predictions about the future that are logical but humorously inaccurate. That's getting fairly far off the beam.

But, hey, whatever. Sure, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created dozens of stories with a certain set-up that are still read and beloved a hundred years later, but let's just accept the idea that Sherlock Holmes needs to be sexed up and made relevant for a twenty-first century audience. Do writer/producer Piers Ashworth and director Graham Theakston manage to make an entertaining movie out of that? No. In their hands, Sherlock becomes a generic hero tortured by the past and Moriarty becomes a thug without any sort of air of mystery about him. Perhaps even more annoyingly, Victorian London loses its charm as a setting, because in this story, the characters are constantly saying things meant to evoke a time a hundred years later. The story is too full of such winks, is terribly obvious once the audience guesses that the producers didn't hire Vincent D'Onofrio to be killed in the first ten minutes, and the action pieces are devoid of excitement. There's gore and grittiness, but neither ever feels terribly useful in terms of provoking a reaction beyond "I'd rather not be watching this".

The cast has by and large done better things. The two leads, D'Arcy and D'Onofrio, are especially weak. Forget previous portrayals of Holmes and Moriarty, and just focus on their tendency to chew scenery and do little, if anything, with body language. Gabrielle Anwar and Stuan Rodger turn in fairly inoffensive performances, making little impression either positively or negatively. Roger Morlidge is actually kind of fun as Watson - the script gives him ridiculous things to do, but he sells them. Nicholas Gecks is a passable Inspector Lestrade. Richard E. Grant slums it here as Holmes's brother Mycroft; if this had gone to series, he would have been an enjoyable recurring character (fun fact: he only needs to play Sherlock to match Christopher Lee for most Holmes-related characters played; he appeared as Stapleton in a version of Hound of the Baskervilles the same year that A Case of Evil appeared).

Fortunately, this pilot didn't go to series, either as a weekly program or a set of TV movies. Otherwise, it might have gone on to define Sherlock Holmes for a generation, a thought which sends more cold shivers down my spine than anything in the actual movie.

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originally posted: 12/23/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

1/12/14 Lucy Without a doubt the worst version f Holmes I've seen so far... 1 stars
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  25-Oct-2002 (R)
  DVD: 22-Dec-2006


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