Director: John Stevenson
Screenplay: Ben Zazove
Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige, Johnny Depp
Runtime: 88 Minutes
You’d be forgiven for forgetting about 2011’s 3D computer-animated Gnomeo & Juliet, a modest box-office hit that mashed up the famed Shakespeare text with… garden gnomes. But it was a decent enough version of exactly what is said on the tin, a colourful and lightweight yet occasionally amusing children’s film that came and went without doing much damage.
So why this belated sequel, Sherlock Gnomes, arrives 7 years later and presumably long after the original audience has since grown up and forgotten about is baffling, to say the least. Shaking up its narrative to suit a new literary text (although the film acknowledges the number of other avenues it could have taken and made no difference), the original characters of Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) tag along with Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Gnome Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to solve the mystery of missing gnomes from local gardens.
If the premise and puns are enough to force a scoff or vicious eye-rolling from you, then this absolutely isn’t for you. This is more of the same, but with slightly shiner visual effects and a more significant impression of pointlessness that the first film was able to just about skirt by on.
But time has moved on, the audience has too, and while some of the qualities that allowed the original to work are still here, the more obnoxious elements have swollen to a degree that they become far more noticeable. From the returning side characters of famous names and heavy modern pop culture references, to the relentless puns and gags that can be seen spoken in unison as they’re delivered.
Once again produced by Rocket Pictures – a studio founded by Elton John to produce family and music-themed film and TV projects – the popular sounds of his tracks blare more frequently and needlessly than before to such a point that you’ll want to go home and burn that Greatest Hits album that might be gathering dust following his last blockbuster effort with Kingsman.
Blunt and McAvoy sound bored, clearly signing on from back when they’re careers needed a leg up and now returning out of contractual obligation, same goes for everyone else cashing the checks. Johnny Depp’s vocal performance is fine, but it’s still Johnny Depp, and his Sherlock does nothing new with the concept besides a predictable character arc where he must come to appreciate Ejiofor’s Watson more, one that is shared with the Gnomeo and Juliet – because they’re still around and need something to do.
There’s actually a midpoint narrative turn where the film suddenly looks like its going to go in an interesting direction, only to then back-pedal into the original narrative so quickly that you wonder why they even bothered with the bait-and-switch in the first place.
Sherlock Gnomes isn’t quite as painful as you’d expect it to be given its title and delayed execution, but it’s too tired and lazy to get angry about and mercifully short enough that it should distract the youngest and most undemanding. But they’ll get little out of it, and neither will the parents taking them along.