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Am I Going Deaf?
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December 28, 2009, 04:29 PM
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Or was much of Robert Downey`s English-accented dialogue in Sherlock Holmes close to inaudible?

I started to understand more of what the star was saying after about an hour. I think I could follow the diction of Jude Law`s Dr. Watson a little better. In contrast, when I was 13 and first saw Laurence Olivier`s Richard III on TV, it took me about five minutes to get the hang of the accent, the blank verse, and Shakespeare`s 16th Century vocabulary.

Am I deafer now, or was there something wrong with the sound system in the theatre, or is Sherlock Holmes not worth watching until it comes out with on subtitles? (Of course, that raises the issue of whether it`s worth watching on DVD.)

In contrast, Englishman Hugh Laurie has been doing Holmes with an American accent to perfection on House on TV for most of the decade. (In general, I don`t mind the movie turning Sherlock Holmes into bare knuckle brawler — Laurie has been doing a brilliant riff on Sherlock Holmes as a purely cerebral force 22 times a year.)

Part of the problem is no doubt using overlapping dialogue like in a 1930s screwball comedy. But audiences could follow His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby because Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn didn`t actually step on each other`s lines. Instead, they generally started each line with an unnecessary syllable like "Ohhhhhhh" while the other finished.

Visually, Guy Ritchie did a bunch of useful hand-holding exercises to keep the audience from losing the thread of the plot, which was much appreciated. But it`s frustrating when dialogue is inaudible. Later in the movie I could understand better, but then the witticisms didn`t seem very funny. That I will never understand — why spend years and 9 figures mounting a movie and then not spend a few weeks and six figures for a script doctoring to make sure there are enough jokes? Downey is really funny, so why not give him some jokes?

Also, is it really a good idea to make Robert Downey Jr. an action star? Despite what they tell you in the making-of documentaries, the insurance companies that provide the business-interruption insurance for film productions won`t let expensive stars do their own stunts. What action stars are supposed to do is fake the hard landing after the stunt man flies through the air.

The worst job I`ve ever seen a leading man do in regard was Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing on Friends) in a 2002 turkey called Serving Sara. In the middle of production, he`d disappeared into rehab for a vicodin painkiller addiction. So, when he got back, the crew treated him like he was as fragile as Christmas tree bulb. They couldn`t let him get hurt because he was on the wagon for painkillers, and if he slipped off the film would never have gotten finished (which wouldn`t necessarily have been a bad thing for the history of cinema). So, the stuntman would fly through the air and then the director would cut to Chandler lying inertly on the ground.

Now, which major current 44-year-old star would you guess would be most vulnerable to a Vicodin addiction if he, say, dislocated his shoulder taking a tumble and then gallantly soldiered on to keep the production on track?

Right.

Sherlock Holmes wasn`t nearly as bad as Serving Sara, but the interplay between the star and his stunt double was a lot less seamless than is the norm these days. Guy Ritchie`s Vegematic editing distracts from this problem, but it`s still there.

And is it really the best use of Downey`s verbal skills to have him sitting around endlessly on giant productions waiting for the crew to get ready for his next shot?

And maybe Downey got all ripped for his shirtless boxing scene purely through natural weightlifting, but, don`t forget, Downey`s director was married for years to Madonna, a notorious performance enhancing drug abuser. So, if the middle-aged Downey`s workout regimen wasn`t producing the results Ritchie had in mind, how much pressure would he put on Downey to try some chemical shortcuts? But is Downey the right guy to be putting weird chemicals in his body?