Picks and Pans Review: Young Sherlock Holmes

updated 12/16/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/16/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

Splendid is the word for this captivating entertainment. Who'd have guessed there was any life left in Conan Doyle's master sleuth? There was the traditional Holmes: 14 films with Basil Rathbone starting with 1939's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Since then the old boy has been served up as a 1954 TV series, a 1965 Broadway musical (Baker Street) and even as pure camp (Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother in 1976). But none, till now, could match the elegant contours and stylish snap of the Rathbone originals. Screenwriter Chris (Gremlins) Columbus' notion of Holmes as a schoolboy is inspired. And the folks at Amblin Entertainment (the Steven Spielberg film factory) have wisely let special effects complement rather than crush characterization this time. Young Sherlock Holmes is the thinking teen's Goonies, We meet Holmes, still a bit gangly, in school, along with his chubby new roommate, John Watson. Two newcomers, Nicholas Rowe, 19, as Holmes, and Alan Cox, 15, as Watson, deliver wonderfully engaging performances. And director Barry Levinson, after the ham-handed symbolism of The Natural, shows here (as he did in 1982's Diner) the wonders he still can work with young actors. It's fun, and often moving, watching Holmes trying not to let his yearnings for a young woman (the ravishing Sophie Ward) interfere with his thinking. The mystery, about a cult that kills its victims with poison darts, might be a shade too elementary were it not for the visual wizardry. The hallucinations in which everything from a brass coat hanger to a roast goose takes on monstrous life are irresistibly scary. An attack by a trayful of French pastries merits a special-effects Oscar. Affectionately conceived and expertly executed, Young Sherlock Holmes deserves to be the surprise hit of the holiday season. (PG-13)

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