There's a reason we don't often follow our heroes into the sunset: It's not that we don't care what happens to them. It's just that retirement is pretty boring and aging is depressing.
Mr. Holmes, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, imagines a world where the great Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) was a very real man. A celebrity thanks to Dr. Watson's embellished literary accounts of his adventures, Holmes is worldly, famous, razor-sharp and enchantingly charismatic. Now he spends most of his days in a rustic country estate, splitting his time between struggling to remember his last case, allowing his health to deteriorate and tending to his beehives. That's right, Holmes is now a beekeeper. Which means anyone looking for some enthralling beekeeping action will be enamored with director Bill Condon's endless shots of hives. Anyone looking for a great Sherlock Holmes story…Look! Bees!
And so, Holmes keeps his bees by day, and by night he puts pen to paper, trying to figure out why he's plagued with guilt by his final case. His memory is fading. There was a woman. And music. And…bees!
This being a British prestige film, Holmes is reinvigorated with the help of a precocious, grimy little boy named Roger, who's the son of Holmes' dowdy housekeeper (Laura Linney). Roger takes a liking to both Sherlock and beekeeping. Because everything here has bees.
McKellen is, of course, fine in the role, effectively playing Holmes through three eras of his life. But he doesn't add much nuance to one of literature's most iconic characters. He simply has his own gait and a grandfatherly air. He's Ian McKellen. With a top hat.
Meanwhile, Condon's film skips all over the place, from Baker Street to Japan to Holmes' estate, where the bees and Roger and guilt keep Holmes company. Were those scenes not dull enough, Condon adds long shots of Roger being chided for befriending the ailing detective by his mother, who hates bees as much as she hates compassion for dying elders.
The film will naturally find an audience that's quick to laud McKellen and the film's arty reimagining of an icon. But they will be lauding an emotionally manipulative flick that, without its famous name, would be the story of a boring old man doing boring, old-man things. With Holmes in the title, it's even worse: a film that robs one of our greatest heroes of his sunset, thrusting him instead into a prolonged, dull twilight.
SEE IT: Mr. Holmes is rated PG. It opens Friday at Clackamas. GRADE C-