Surprising that there’s even a Sherlock Gnomes movie to talk about, given that it’s been seven years since the surprisingly charming Gnomeo & Juliet. The prior film had a clever idea to recast Shakespeare’s classic with a bunch of garden gnomes, infused with a healthy dose of music by a very heavily-involved Elton John, and spot-on use of sound effects (the *tink* of the porcelain gnomes was wonderful) to accompany solid animation. It was an enjoyable movie, not mind-blowing by any means, and clearly there was no rush to do a sequel.
Sherlock Gnomes arrives and unless you knew about the previous film you’d be hard-pressed to see any connection. It feels like an afterthought, and the characters we liked before are also treated like afterthoughts, jammed into an ill-fitting caper like a garden gnome into backyard soil. The same characters are in it, but they are B-players in a story that has its attentions elsewhere, and the mystery isn’t fun or compelling enough to compensate.
James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are back voicing porcelain lovers Gnomeo and Juliet, now leaders of their tribe of gnomes. It’s been seven years so the older couple that owns them are downsizing from their vast country home to a tiny flat in London, and with it come new troubles for the animated lawn ornaments. Gnomeo feels Juliet has been so consumed with her garden plans that she’s overlooked him, a dynamic that parallels the relationship between detective duo Sherlock Holmes (voiced by Johnny Depp, apparently obsessed with playing goofy detectives) and Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Watson feels he has gone unappreciated after all of these years, even as he was invaluable in defeating the criminal mastermind/pastry mascot Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou). When garden gnomes all across London begin disappearing, including Gnomeo and Juliet’s families, they team up with the detectives to solve the case.
Incoming director John Stevenson and writer Ben Zazove lean heavily on the Sherlock story, while Gnomeo and Juliet are hanging on to the plot for dear life. Although the idea for this film was hatched in 2012, it really does look like they wanted to tell a Sherlock Gnomes mystery rather than have to deal with all of the Shakespeare stuff. While there are a couple of obvious nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and characters, others are just plain strange like a bizarre Mary J. Blige musical performance as Sherlock’s ex-girlfriend Irene (based on Irene Adler). Most would fly over kids’ heads and the rest aren’t going to add much for Sherlock Holmes fans. Even the Robert Downey Jr. action movies make better use of Conan Doyle’s canon.
The split focus might have been acceptable if the movie were funnier and more creative, but neither is the case. There’s still plenty of Elton John music to hear but it’s used less imaginatively, mostly saved for big party scenes and the occasional chase. Most of the “best” gags are visual and involve either Mankini, the dancing gnome in the shockingly showy swimsuit, and the lowly gnome stuck on a toilet. Your mileage may vary with both but for me it was a very short distance.
It’s possible Sherlock Gnomes will find an audience out there and we’ll get another adaptation with a silly title. A Gnome at the End of the World? The Lovely Gnomes? Hopefully not, and these gnomes can stay packed away in the shed where they belong.