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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sherlock Gnomes

By all accounts, 2011's Gnomeo and Juliet should not have worked at all, but it managed to win me over.  It took a ludicrous premise (taking Shakespeare's famous story, and setting it in a world of sentient lawn gnomes living in an English garden), and managed to make some fun out of it thanks to a talented and game cast, and some funny ideas that played off of Shakespeare's other plays, and likely flew over the heads of kids in the audience.


The far-too late and not exactly asked for sequel, Sherlock Gnomes, replaces the Shakespeare with the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective, and the movie is not better for it in the slightest.  And while most of the cast from the last movie have come back, they're cast adrift here in a plot that surprisingly takes itself far too seriously, and features none of the clever parody elements that the last movie featured.  Granted, this is a movie with bigger ambitions.  Instead of being set mostly in a flower garden, this movie takes us to the streets of London, and has set pieces in various landmarks.  But, it would seem that the emphasis on action and larger scale moments have stripped the characters of their personality and charm.  Sherlock Gnomes will probably interest the little ones in the audience, but anyone over the age of 7 will find this a disappointing and massive bore.

When we last left our lawn ornament lovers, Gnomeo (voice by James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt), they were getting ready for a lifetime of happiness together.  But now their human owners have plucked them and all the other lawn decorations from the familiar garden home, and moved them to a new garden in London.  Their new home needs a lot of work, and Juliet becomes so obsessed with making the garden beautiful that she begins to neglect Gnomeo, who feels left out.  The lovers are so fixated on arguing with each other that they fail to notice that there is a massive crime wave spreading throughout the city.  Some evil mastermind is stealing all the lawn decorations in London, and now the thief has struck the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet.  The only ones who can solve this mystery is the great Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his underappreciated and put-upon partner, Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor). 

What made the original movie work is completely absent here, and that was a clear understanding and a sense to poke fun at its literary subject matter.  Sherlock Gnomes never once tries to have fun with its characters, or actually satirize its source material.  Instead, director John Stevenson (Kung Fu Panda) and his team of writers give us a by the numbers kiddie mystery story that never once seems to try to have fun with itself, and never develops a sense of humor.  One can only ask what they were thinking with this decision.  The first movie placed references to Shakespeare in a lot of modern day settings, and even parodied the plays to pretty fair success.  Here, we get just another generic detective movie that never once exploits the possibilities that its source material brings.  Not only that, it wastes a largely talented voice cast that also includes the likes of Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, and Stephen Merchant, as none of these actors register much more than a cameo.

And then there is the out of place Elton John soundtrack that plays throughout the film.  Yes, I understand that he is the Executive Producer of the film, much as he was on the last one.  And yes, I remember that Gnomeo and Juliet featured a lot of his music also.  But here, a lot of the song choices just make little to no sense.  His music usually accompanies chase scenes and action sequences, such as when Sherlock and his friends are in a sewer on the run from vicious rats, and the movie decides to play "I'm Still Standing" in the background for no reason while they make their escape.  And another daring escape in Chinatown is scored to "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting".  There are even references to his music in the dialogue, such as when Gnomeo is on a mission, and his code name is "Tiny Dancer".  It gets to be a bit much.

Did I have high hopes walking into Sherlock Gnomes?  Not really, but hey, I didn't exactly have high hopes with the last movie, and it wound up surprising me.  I did my best to keep an open mind watching it, but I'm afraid I was fighting a losing battle this time.  Maybe they should have gone with a different approach.  Or maybe the idea of "lawn gnomes recreating great works of literature" just shouldn't be a franchise.


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