New on DVD: Downey plays swashbuckling ‘Sherlock’

In Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” the famous detective still has brains but adds brawn, catlike reflexes and a bit of a penchant for violence.

Played with dash by Robert Downey Jr., Holmes is joined by an equally smart bruiser in Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, an Anglo-Afghan War veteran (yes, Britain fought in Afghanistan in the late 1800s). The two longtime friends make an odd couple, trading verbal jabs but differing on women.

Watson’s engagement to a pretty woman named Mary (Kelly Reilly) has Holmes a bit jealous and worried he’ll lose his mate. But the sleuth is aroused by Rachel McAdams’ beautiful thief Irene Adler, a minor character in the Arthur Conan Doyle books. There isn’t much romance – when is there in a Holmes mystery? – but there are a lot of looks and innuendos.

But “Sherlock Holmes” does not slow down for much. You can count on Ritchie for action, and in his fractured, hyperkinetic “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” style, he amusingly diagrams Holmes’ brawls before he delivers the punches and kicks to his adversaries. There is also a cool visual style as the Baker Street buddies rush around Victorian London to solve the mystery.

Yes, there is a mystery amid the fights and explosions, involving an evil aristocrat (Mark Strong), who after being caught by Holmes has been executed, yet somehow returns from the dead to set into motion an ancient secret society intent on taking over England.

If you’re wondering where Holmes’ archenemy Professor Moriarty is, this “Sherlock Holmes” has sequel written all over it.

EDUCATING JENNY

In “An Education,” Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan plays a 16-year-old London suburban schoolgirl in 1961. Jenny has aspirations for Oxford, but Latin is a problem. She goes to a strict private school, and her anxious parents (Cara Seymour and Alfred Molina) have kept her on the straight and narrow.

But Jenny loves French pop records and has a teenage dream of romance.

One day while carrying her cello home from school in the pouring rain, a suave stranger named David (Peter Sarsgaard) offers to give her instrument – not her – a lift. It’s not innocent.

Soon their little encounter, in which they talk about Elgar, turns into attending classical concerts and art auctions, and going for drinks at clubs and on trips out of town.

The new world that David has introduced her to, which includes his cool friends, Danny and Helen (Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike), begins to make her question the academic life she’s headed for.

Meanwhile, his sophistication has also won over her parents. By then “An Education” – based on a memoir by the British journalist Lynn Barber – is headed for tricky territory, but director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby never overplay the situation.

Mulligan is irresistible. It’s easy to fall into Jenny’s story because of her.

Sarsgaard manages to seem both unctuous and not entirely unsympathetic. All of the supporting roles are sharply drawn and played, including Olivia Williams as a kindly teacher and Emma Thompson as the disapproving headmistress.

“An Education” would be a different story if it were set today rather than 1961, but that’s part of the film’s charm, knowing the changes that were coming in the decade.

WILLIAMS LETS LOOSE

Robin Williams’ HBO special “Weapons of Self Destruction,” his first solo special on the network in seven years, shows that the comedian still has a manic sense of humor.

It’s not up to his vintage stuff, but there are enough laughs.

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