'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

"I'm not rubbing my nipple, I promise."

** (out of four)

A convoluted plot. A generic adventure score. A lead performance that’s already played its best hand. What is this, a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel?

No, it’s the follow-up to Guy Ritchie’s mildly amusing 2009 take on “Sherlock Holmes,” and I could not remember the sequel’s subtitle en route to the screening. Book of Shadows? Game of Thrones? Chicken of the Sea? Well, “A Game of Shadows” is no more memorable.

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. proves that the legendary sleuth is not immune to the law of diminishing returns. No matter how many wigs he wears or goofy asides he makes—yes, Holmes just drank formaldehyde and said he’s draining fluid from the adrenal glands of sheep—Downey Jr. can’t breathe life into a sequel that’s muted by its director’s tone-deaf inability to vary his style. Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) believe that diabolical professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) has a connection to a growing conflict between France and Germany in 1891; they just don’t know why. This merely offers Ritchie new opportunity to stage stylized hand-to-hand beatings and slow-motion gun battles, as if a tree exploding slowly achieves a greater sense of drama than actually caring about who’s been shot.

Holmes also battles abandonment issues surrounding Watson’s impending nuptials, and suffice to say 19th century bachelor parties have nothing on the 21st century version. Noomi Rapace (better known as the original Lisbeth Salander) is wasted as a fortune-teller along for the ride, contributing as much as the perfunctory war of words between Holmes and Moriarty that parallels a chess game. Just because “A Game of Shadows” blows things up and makes jokes about hedgehog goulash doesn’t mean it actually has any personality. What registers most is seeing that, after Watson’s “stag party,” waking up a hungover man with bagpipes is just cruel.

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mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais