Director: John Stevenson
Cast: The voices of Johnny Depp, James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jamie Demetriou, Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Mary J. Blige, Dexter Fletcher, Javone Prince, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Kelly Asbury, Julio Bonet, James Hong, Stephen Merchant, Ozzy Osbourne, Julie Walters, Richard Wilson
MPAA Rating: (for some rude and suggestive humor)
Running Time: 1:26
Release Date: 3/23/18
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 23, 2018
How Sherlock Gnomes ended up as a follow-up to Gnomeo & Juliet is anybody's guess, really. The 2011 animated movie gave us a kid-friendly version of Romeo and Juliet, starring a variety of lawn ornaments and featuring a happy ending. This sequel-of-sorts provides us with a kid-friendly imagining of the conflict between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, once again starring lawn ornaments, casting a plastic corporate mascot as the villain, and, as you probably have guessed, also featuring a happy ending.
These stories exist in the same universe and feature the same cast of characters (with most of the supporting players of the first movie taking on ancillary roles in this one). That—along with a soundtrack made up of Elton John songs—is about where the connections end.
The screenplay is by Ben Zazove, who had no involvement in the previous movie, and the credits even throw in a "based on" nod to Shakespeare, which is amusing on at least two levels—the major one being the idea of a sequel to his tragic romance and the lesser one being the notion that this story has anything to do with the play. There's a distinct feeling that Zazove is intentionally messing with us in an assortment of subtle ways.
That's to the movie's benefit. It opens with a prologue, featuring a trio of miniature garden gnomes called the Goons (all voiced by Kelly Asbury), who spend the entirety of the scene arguing over which story about the lawn ornaments they should tell.
They're all about as random as a riff on Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective is unconnected to the original movie's tale of unlikely ceramic lovers. A couple of the other options include a gnome version of a fedora-wearing archeologist/adventurer and what would have to be the most watered-down version imaginable of a TV show featuring a bloody battle for a throne, an army of frost zombies, and some dragons. The final product features dragons of sorts, so we have to wonder if Zazove actually toyed with the idea for a bit.
Ultimately, we get the adventures of Sherlock Gnomes (voice of Johnny Depp, whose rather uninspired vocal performance suggests that he's aware that is a significant step below actually playing Doyle's character) and his faithful—yet overlooked and underappreciated—partner Dr. Watson (voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor). They're on the case of a series of disappearing lawn ornaments throughout London. All signs point to Moriarty (voice of Jamie Demetriou), a demonic-looking mascot for a line of pies who regularly abducts garden gnomes to test his opponent's skills, but Sherlock's archnemesis was seemingly killed during the movie's second prologue.
The gnomes from the first movie return, too, having been moved by their owners from the gardens of country homes in Stratford-upon-Avon to the much smaller backyard of a London townhouse. Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) and Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) are still a couple, naturally, and they're soon going to be promoted to the role of leaders of the garden.
Fearing that he's being overlooked by his beloved Juliet in her plans for the garden, Gnomeo tries to get a special flower from a local florist to regain her attention. While Juliet is saving Gnomeo from the mess he has caused, their ornament pals go missing. The two team up with Sherlock and Watson to find them.
The narrative's indecisiveness is obvious, as it attempts to find a connection between the story of the detectives and the story of the lovers. It doesn't quite find that link, leaning more toward the Sherlock character, while Gnomeo and Juliet's relationship is seen as a reflection of the tenuous bond between the detective and his professional partner.
The mystery plays out as a series of gags, mostly involving the captured gnomes (The movie gets as much mileage as it can from a gnome that's posed sitting on a toilet), and action sequences, which feature some clever elements, like Sherlock's makeshift speedboat, powered by mixing breath mints and soda. The detective's deduction process plays out in some striking, traditionally animated scenes, with Sherlock assembling pieces of a puzzle or searching for a memory of an image through an M.C. Escher-inspired maze. The adaptation of the character is fairly straightforward, meaning the interpretations of other characters from the Holmes universe are more intriguing—Watson's dissatisfaction in his role, Moriarty's purely maniacal nature, and an Irene Adler (voice of Mary J. Blige) who's reimagined as a fashion doll and a music hall proprietor/performer.
The split focus between these two stories distracts from the potential for each of them. There's no denying that there's a certain appeal to the movie's couldn't-care-less attitude in embracing the randomness of its premise. Like its predecessor, though, Sherlock Gnomes doesn't do anything subversive or imaginative with its material. The movie is merely content to provide a relatively basic reinterpretation of its source material, some silly jokes, and, this time around, more action setpieces.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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