In "Sherlock Holmes," Robert Downey Jr. never utters "my dear Watson." But the warm sentiment is implied throughout Guy Ritchie's fleet and brooding buddy adventure set in late-Victorian England.
London is grime, crime and scaffolding.
The London Bridge is in mid- construction. Laborers build massive ships on the piers of the Thames. Thugs stick up citizens in alleys. (Or, in the case of one capable lass, they try to.) All grays, browns and soot, the city has the flavor of industrious expansion with a full ladle of brute lawlessness.
A ritual killer has already sacrificed five women upon the altar of his dark ambitions when London's publicity-modest ace detective Sherlock Holmes (Downey) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) nab him. The murderer turns out to be Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong).
Ritchie, the director of the brawling, breakneck imports "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," shoots Blackwell's capture and the clashes to follow with a heady cocktail of the accelerated and the slo-mo. Combat is fast and furious, then lingers. The face of one of Holmes' boxing opponents - the detective is a bare-knuckled pugilist - suggests G-force distortion. Everyone on set (and editor James Herbert) took their director's call for "action" to heart.
This is not your grandparents', or even your parents', Holmes. Vim and vigor have been restored to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famously cerebral master of deduction.
Thanks to TV's "Monk," "Psych" and "The Mentalist," Holmes' powers of observation might seem less than singular.
Hardly ho-hum, however, is the chemistry between the scruffily dashing Holmes and his reserved partner-in-crime-fighting, Dr. John Watson.
Quite handsome with a mustache, Law is smashing as the good doctor. A veteran of the Afghan war, this Watson is no slouch in the thinking and combat departments. There's some kick - but none of the flustered sidekick - to Watson.
This doesn't mean Holmes won't enlist the services of his reluctant friend. About to pop the question to his beloved Mary (Kelly Reilly), Watson is putting an end to his and Holmes' domestic partnership. It's an arrangement that has the doc apologizing for the mayhem his brooding friend engages.
Ritchie has a deservedly grand reputation for bloke camaraderie. Even a lesser romp like last year's "RocknRolla" is a pleasure of knowing masculinity. Pity he's not as exceptional when it comes to womenfolk.
Rachel McAdams is porcelain-pretty but unconvincing as American fatale Irene Adler. More interesting is Reilly's turn as the understandably curt Mary.
Holmes' love interest qua nemesis arrives in a dress accented with almost the only color in the film and asks the detective's help in finding a man linked to her mysterious benefactor and the resurrected Blackwell.
Downey has called the denizen of 221B Baker Street an early superhero. He should know. Ever since the actor trained for his role as Tony Stark, he looks like he could compete in the "Ironman" triathalon.
In early scenes, Holmes acutely visualizes the outcome of his actions, voicing them aloud, then executing them. It's a clever if overly self-conscious trick.
Caught, sentenced, executed, Blackwell presents quite the conundrum for all concerned when he returns from the dead.
Has Holmes crossed into Harry Potter territory? Has the villain gained supernatural powers before the hero? The movie keeps us guessing.
There are at least three extended clashes. One humorously pits Holmes against a giant of a Frenchman. The filmmakers even find a way to include a version of comedy's most recent weapon of choice, a Taser. It's spirited nonsense.
Given Downey's gift for agile delivery, the screenplay isn't as spry as we'd hoped. Eddie Marsan does promising work as the one-upped but not wholly rancorous Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.
There's a secret society of powerful men. And there's a plan for world domination. And we never see the face of Irene's dark patron.
Yet, it's all knotted together, then unraveled with brio, by Holmes and Watson. There are fisticuffs galore, fiery combustion aplenty, and, yes, my dear reader, clever deduction.