You know what happens when you come up with the title first and then try to build a movie around it? You get uninspired nonsense like “Sherlock Gnomes,” a sequel to “Gnomeo & Juliet,” which I didn’t see but which I assume was also uninspired nonsense. The premise in this world is that decorative garden gnomes are sentient creatures, like the toys in “Toy Story,” with rich inner lives and complex relationships. Did you ever wonder what your garden gnomes were up to when you weren’t around? You didn’t? Well, now there are two movies telling you anyway.
“Sherlock” begins with star-cross’d lovers Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) living happily ever after, the first film having evidently deviated from Shakespeare. They and their backyard cohorts, who include not just gnomes but ceramic frogs and the like, are moved to a new backyard from which they start to disappear. Gnomes in other London gardens are likewise vanishing, leading to a breathless TV news report where the police are quoted as saying: “We have no time for this. Please do not contact us again.” That made me chuckle, the first of maybe three times in the whole movie.
Fortunately, Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp), the greatest detective in the “ornamental world,” is on the case, assisted by his trusty Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They are also ceramic beings who make a “chink-chink” sound when they walk and live in constant fear of being smashed to a million pieces. Sherlock, an arrogant jerk who doesn’t appreciate Watson, believes all of this to be the work of his archenemy Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a bakery mascot (think Pillsbury Doughboy) whose demented, aggressively cute design is good for a few smiles. But let’s call a moratorium on self-aware movie villains who describe their own plans as “needlessly complicated” and add “but that’s what supervillains do,” OK? What was once clever meta-commentary has become a crutch for lazy writers (in this case Ben Zazove, with four more people getting “story by” credit).
Gnomeo and Juliet are supporting characters who have their dull newlywed squabbles on the sidelines. The greater focus is on Sherlock and Watson, brand-new characters for whom we’re supposed to feel affection just because the movie dumped them on us. The one visually interesting touch by director John Stevenson (“Kung Fu Panda”) is the occasional glimpse into Sherlock’s detective mind, rendered in black-and-white animated line drawings. But the whole thing is short and largely inoffensive (the gnome in the “mankini” is more prominent in the marketing than the film itself), unlikely to do any significant harm if you find yourself obligated to watch it.
C+ (1 hr., 26 min.; )