'Sherlock Gnomes': Film Review

Guess you really can't go Gnome again.

The animated garden ornaments are back in a sequel that trades Shakespeare for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The last time we saw Gnomeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lawn ornaments were singing and cavorting their hearts out in a proper English garden. Seven years later, they’re back in an adventure that swaps Shakespeare for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and quaint Stratford-Upon-Avon for London, with diminished results.

Although it’s understandable that the filmmakers may have felt the need for any follow-up to require a dramatic change of scenery, the broader landscape has served to strip the characters of whatever charm and vitality they may have initially possessed, to numbingly dull effect.

Simply put, Sherlock Gnomes is a dreadful bore.

Considering that 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet, which had been distributed by Disney, earned some $194 million worldwide, the notion of a sequel would be elementary, but while timed to coincide with Spring Break, this Paramount release (again produced by Elton John’s Rocket Pictures) will likely have to settle for a scaled-back payoff.

After a brief setup, during which several potential Gnome-ified scenarios are floated (including “Game of Gnomes”) before homing in on Holmes, the film finds Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and his beloved Juliet (Emily Blunt) going through a rough patch in their relationship as they adjust to their new big city digs.

But they’re forced to put their personal issues on hold with the discovery that someone has been pinching their fellow pottery. The mystery has them teaming up with Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and the faithful but taken-for-granted Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), with all clues pointing to the involvement of Sherlock’s old nemesis, Moriarty, here in the form of a maniacal “Goobarb Pie” mascot (Jamie Demetriou).

Unfortunately, the ensuing escapade proves to be strictly garden variety as the process of transplanting Gnomeo and company into the more expansive milieu serves to underscore how much their original stomping grounds, however limited, played a key role in defining the characters.

As choreographed by Kung Fu Panda co-director John Stevenson in a screenplay credited to Ben Zazove, with another four writers receiving story credit, the gnomes possess all the sparkling personality and delightful individuality of paving stones.

The upshot, while proficiently if unremarkably animated, allows little opportunity for the capable voice cast to shine — and even less to do — especially for Michael Caine and Maggie Smith, returning very, very briefly as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry, who presided over the Capulet-Montague dynamic of the first installment.

Among the newcomers, Depp feels oddly subdued as the pretentious Sherlock, while Mary J. Blige at least gets her moment in the spotlight as Sherlock’s former flame, a Victorian doll who croons the new John/Bernie Taupin composition, “Stronger Than I Ever Was.”

As in the previous film, Sherlock Gnomes takes the majority of its musical cues from Sir Elton’s catalog, including remixed snippets of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “The One” — but not, ironically, the entirely apropos “Empty Garden.”

Production companies: Paramount Animation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Rocket Pictures
: Paramount
Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Mary J. Blige, Stephen Merchant
Director: John Stevenson
Screenwriter: Ben Zazove
Producers: Steve Hamilton Shaw, David Furnish, Carolyn Soper
Executive producer: Elton John
Production designer: Karen deJong
Editors: Prakash Patel, Mark Solomon
Composer: Chris Bacon
Casting director: Nina Gold

Rated PG, 86 minutes