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Sherlock Holmes’ sequel an elementary effort

A Game of Shadows,' in theaters Dec. 16, 2011.

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If nothing else, Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” films can always be remembered for pulling off the considerable feat of taking one of the smartest characters in the history of fiction and placing him in the dumbest movies possible.

In theory, Holmes is supposed to be an ingenious detective who solves complicated cases in interesting ways. He remains a fascinating character in Ritchie’s films, but the problem is that the story he’s in doesn’t require him to be a good detective. He’s asked instead to punch, shoot and fight his way out of situations instead of thinking his way out of them.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” Ritchie’s second film in the series, more or less rehashes the same old tricks we saw in the first one, only this time there is even less attention paid to advancing the characters or telling an interesting story. It coasts mostly on the ample charm of its actors and Ritchie’s unnecessary stylistic flourishes that ultimately add nothing to the excitement. If anything, they detract.

The central villain of “A Game of Shadows” is Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), the one man who many consider to be Holmes’ intellectual equal. While Harris plays him well, nothing’s ever done to make him a particularly memorable villain. He does nothing that every other arch nemesis in film history hasn’t already done, and his master plan – just kind of planting bombs around various locations in Europe – doesn’t seem like the work of an academic genius so much as your everyday terrorist group. It’s all a bit underwhelming, and it’s just another wasted performance in a film full of them.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (who portray Holmes and the sidekick Watson, respectively) have great chemistry. This was true in the first film and it is just as true in “A Game of Shadows.” The most charming scenes come when it’s just the two of them together, exchanging dialogue and witty banter.

When they are thrust into the middle of simultaneously oppressive and boring action scenes, it’s infinitely less interesting. There’s a balance to be struck here between these two sides of the modern Holmes. Ritchie is not likely to be the director who finds it.

The failure of “A Game of Shadows” to realize its potential as a great blockbuster is evident in the introduction of a new character portrayed by Noomi Rapace: a fortune teller names Sim. There’s a lot of fun to be had with such a person, but instead she mostly acts as the requisite female sidekick. She barely even qualifies as a vital instrument in the plot. She just exists, as do many of the moments and characters in this film.

“A Game of Shadows” is a complete failure of imagination that strips away all humanity in favor of some witless slow motion scenes of characters running between explosions.

Grade: C-

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