IT'S GOT goonies, gremlins, poltergeists and even bald religious fanatics hungry for blood. And most important, it's got Steven Spielberg's signature.
"Young Sherlock Holmes" delivers all the ingredients that Spielberg addicts relish: action, effects, a cute fat kid, a pretty girl and a hero who's good with swords. But, like a room at a Holiday Inn, there are no surprises.
Under the direction of Barry Levinson of "The Natural" and "Diner," "Sherlock" is a little more restrained than other Spielbergers. But the Lucas film effects are as startling as ever -- vividly depicted hallucinations that dominate the mystery, which seems written to supplement the effects.
Flesh-tearing demons -- serpentine curios that scream into life -- trick their elderly victims into committing suicide. An old accountant whse dinner duckling becomes foul indeed leaps to his death on snowy London cobblestones; then a worshipping cleric is accosted by a sword-wielding, stained-glass saint. While investigating these murders, the heroes are shadowed by a cowled nemesis armed with a blowgun.
The story, set at Christmastime 1870, concerns Holmes' public school days, his budding idiosyncracies and his first meetings with Professor Moriarty and his lifetime companion Watson.
Nicholas Rowe, son of a British MP, plays the persnickety, nitpicking Victorian sleuth, a slim, ascetic young actor who's low-key, sometimes too diffident in this demanding role. But you can envision him growing into Basil Rathbone. Costar Alan Cox makes a pleasant movie debut as Holmes' incipient sidekick in this first outing for the teenage crimebusting team.
Young Holmes, already sporting a deerstalker, is a sponge for knowledge, and Watson is a pudgy, perplexed disciple with a fear of flunking out of medical school. The adult, off-camera Watson narrates the nostalgic story, which is not so much a mystery as a memoir.
Sophie Ward, a sort of Amy Irving Jr., costars as the niece of Holmes' mentor, a flying professor played by Nigel Waxflatter, who also played Dr. Watson in 26 BBC-TV episodes. Waxflatter builds a moth-like flying machine that elevates the audience like E.T.'s moon- hopping bicycle, rising to the rescue one deadly winter's eve.
But we've seen it all before. The plot finally falters when the story is forced into the Spielberg mold. Writer Chris Columbus, author of "Gremlins," "Goonies" and an upcoming Indiana Jones, serves up more idolatrous villains right out of "The Temple of Doom." This time it's a chanting cult of Osirian ram worshippers, who have turned the bikini wax into a religious rite. They're headquartered in an Egyptian pyramid under a wax shop downtown.
It's a silly business, not for true blue Sherlock fanciers, but meant as a lighthearted salute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Simple deduction will serve, unless you exit before the final scene, which follows the credits. Elementary, my dear movie-goer.