This cheapskate, shot-in-Wales knock-off of the Guy Ritchie-Robert Downey Jr film can’t even be bothered to extend any originality on a title – would Sherlock Holmes vs Spring-Heeled Jack or The Mystery of the Whitechapel Dinosaur have used up too much letraset? – and so filmographies are now forever stuck with two 2009 films that go by Sherlock Holmes. It opens during the Blitz, with an aged Watson dictating one final memoir to a Miss Lucy Hudson (Rachael Evelyn) who, implausibly, has never heard of Sherlock Holmes. Equally implausibly, this is one of those ‘the world is not yet ready to know’ cases – which implies that somehow Holmes managed to keep secret a business which winds up with a giant robot dragon laying waste to half of London and setting fire to the Houses of Parliament in 1882. The mystery proper begins with a giant squid wrecking a bullion ship in the English Channel, which prompts Inspector Lestrade (William Huw) to call in Holmes (Ben Syder), who makes a quick deductive diagnosis (acceptably Doylean) which wraps up an autopsy Watson (top-billed Gareth David-Lloyd) is supposed to perform so the medical man can be available to assist the great detective.
As it happens, Watson’s first job is pointlessly to dangle off a cliff – an incident which somehow tells him the gold is missing from the wreck he doesn’t even see, and though he notices an apparent drowning man in the waves he fails to mention this when he’s hauled to safety. Then, there’s a dinosaur attack in Whitechapel, as a medium-sized CGI tyrannosaur chomps down on a bank clerk who’s trying to pay for a sixpenny knee-trembler with threepence. The beast shows up in a nearby park and chases a fairly unintrepid Holmes-and-Watson through the undergrowth – rather, a camera runs after the fleeing actors to save on the very few effects shots. The case leads to a copper-wire factory, where the dinosaur attacks again (upstairs) and kills someone who was about to divulge useful information. A unique stone on the dead man leads our heroes to lonely Handsworth Castle, near where Holmes grew up (‘that explains a lot,’ deadpans Watson). There, everything becomes clear and we get a crowded second half.
The villain, who is only called Spring-Heeled Jack in publicity and never so much as stands on tiptoes let alone leaps (which makes this a bust as the first Spring-Heeled Jack film since The Curse of the Wraydons in 1946), turns out to be Holmes’ brother (Dominic Keating), a police inspector retired after being crippled on the job who blames Lestrade for accidentally shooting him in the back (he didn’t) and has manufactured a range of Jules Verne gadgets to help him get revenge. The brother isn’t Doyle’s Mycroft but a new character named Thorpe Holmes, and his mechanical marvels include a steampunk Iron Man suit which means he can clump around and have fights despite being handicapped, the robot dinosaur and squid (no explanations for how he got them to the scenes of crimes unnoticed), a lady automaton (Elizabeth Arends) he intends to have crash Buckingham Palace as a suicide bomber, and two flying machines (the fake dragon and a combination hot air balloon/helicopter) the Holmes Brothers use to duel in the overambitious climax. All this is even more off-model than Guy Ritchie’s Holmes, but considerably less entertaining – as in the same company’s MegaShark vs Giant Octopus or Snakes on a Train, you get only the most half-hearted attempt at delivering on the promise of wild fantastical action.
Syder is much shorter than David-Lloyd, rarely advantageous in a Holmes, and is furthermore a reedy, floppy-haired, unimposing youth with a thin voice – he may give the worst Holmes performance in a seriously-intended talking picture to date (it’s odd that the more physically suitable Keating didn’t get the job). David-Lloyd (killed off in Torchwood), the first Welsh Watson since Dudley Moore, gets a bit more action to justify his billing – he wrestles the terminatrix bomb to the ground outside the Palace, though previously he’d taken a shine to her and invited her to the opera (though he has to cry off to go dinosaur-hunting). With the possible exception of Arends as a robot, no one makes much of an effort to be convincing or even interesting. Catriona McDonald is a hefty Mrs Hudson. As for the details, this is a rare film to put 221 on Holmes’ front door – which makes sense – though Caernarvon can’t really run to anything that looks remotely like Victorian Baker Street. In what might conceivably be a Doctor Who in-joke, it turns out that the hero’s real name is Robert, but he uses his middle name because ‘no one would remember a detective called Robert Holmes’. Written by Paul Bales (The DaVinci Treasure, 100 Million BC, MegaFault), who might once have read a Sherlock Holmes story: he uses that beggar who pesters Watson but turns out to be the detective in disguise bit, but weirdly gives Holmes the Batman-like trait of never using a gun – except when forced to kill his brother to save his best friend – which doesn’t square with the way the Hound of the Baskervilles was killed, for instance. Directed by Rachel Goldenberg (Sunday School Musical). Given that it’s got Holmes and dinosaurs, it really ought to be more fun.