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YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES. Directed by Barry Levinson; written by Chris Columbus; produced by Mark Johnson for Paramount. Starring Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox. Rated PG (some violence).


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Young Sherlock Holmes is a Victorian mystery sure to entertain fans of the older Holmes as he appears both in print and on celluloid.

Numbering myself among the Great Detective's staunchest admirers, I can't say for sure how the movie will be received by those unfamiliar with Conan Doyle's stories. But I suspect they will enjoy it, too.

The movie traces the budding friendship of schoolboys Holmes (Rowe) and John Watson (Cox), from their first meeting through the solving of their first case. Even at this tender age (16 or so), Holmes possesses brilliant deductive powers as well as a keen general intelligence. But Rowe allows him an occasional moment or two of endearing vulnerability, too, which is something the adult Holmes never betrays.

Watson is slightly pudgy, newly from the provinces, and overly concerned about getting into medical school. But in spite of Holmes' aura of danger and adventure, or perhaps because of it, Watson finds the older boy's magnetic personality irresistible.

Now, according to the original stories, Holmes and Watson meet as adults. But the characterizations in Young Sherlock Holmes ring true, and the story is handled with affection and good humor. Holmes purists, don't let a devotion to Doyle keep you from such an enjoyable movie!

The case in question involves elderly pillars of the community meeting untimely ends, a bizarre Egyptian religious cult, and some very clever (and mostly pretty creepy) special effects.

Sherlock Holmes does not automatically spring to mind when you're thinking of the Star Wars Industrial Light and Magic special effects shop. But the effects here fit well into the story and are, naturally, very well done.

Rowe and Cox are a nearly perfect Holmes and Watson. They're more believable and entertaining, in fact, than the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce pairing from the 1940s. For while Rowe lacks Rathbone's vibrant intensity at times, Cox is far superior to Bruce's ridiculous, pompous Watson.

The young doctor to be here is properly awed by Holmes' brilliance, and appropriately clumsy and dense by comparison. But he's also likeable, and comes through in the final crisis to save the day. Look for more good things from these young British actors, if they're lucky enough to find such well-written scripts in the future.

There are echoes of many movies in Young Sherlock Holmes, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Chariots of Fire to, not surprisingly, Gremlins. The latter was also written by Columbus, and was also a witty smorgasbord of "quotes" from other movies.

The creepy side of Young Sherlock Holmes is a lot like Gremlins, too, with good, old-fashioned thrills enhanced by modern movie technology.

A final word of advice, especially to hard-core Holmes fans. Sit through the final credits rather than dashing out of the theater early. There's a final twist I think you'll appreciate.

December 4, 1985

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