From butchering the final episode of an overblown, modernised Sherlock Holmes to a scrappy con artist thriller enlisting legends of the screen, director Benjamin Caron has it all. Well, he has Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan and John Lithgow at his disposal. An incredible, award-winning talent, a box office draw for his work in Marvel’s merry-go-round, and Lord Farquaad. What a trio. It should make for an exciting back-and-forth between the motives and suspicions of a Manhattan-based showdown. Sharper is not as sharp as it perceives itself, but it gives it a go regardless. Caron charges through with his feature-film debut but already has the experience of long-form storytelling after that hefty dose of Sherlock. Making good on that experience is clearly on his mind.
Hit and miss the motions of A24 may be, their dedication to focusing on the few hits they have in a surge of movies, much like Blumhouse, is a system that works for them. At worst, Sharper will be forgotten. It still maintains artistic integrity with a core that relies on the usual putdowns of billionaires and the defiant few who live by their wits. Secrets and lies tear apart an upper-class New York family as though Succession had not been setting the benchmark for those fumblings of personal lives since 2018. Fluid the streets of New York may be, it is telling just how blocked up Sharper finds itself. Justice Smith and Briana Middleton make for a decent pairing in those opening moments but their characters, intentional or not, are typically unloved New Yorkers. Their smiles feel empty and their intentions in this vignette-style broadness is clunky.
It happens for the rest of the storylines within Sharper too. Blunter and blunter it gets, constant shot-reverse-shot with little mannerisms that strike beyond expected and obvious. Much of the film feels cold and unflinching despite the clear and personable extremities at the heart of it. Middleton holds her own quite well, making up for a patchy appearance in the equally uneven The Tender Bar. Con job hijinks that even the Ben Stiller-led Tower Heist managed to avoid. At times it makes for a routinely weak and shameless rip on the corruption of high society. Caron has crafted a paint-by-numbers experience where the expectation of story is about as inevitable as the double-crosses, deaths and disastrous consequences that all work out in the end.
Sharper is from the mind of someone who thought they knew what they were doing when pulling threads and tying knots on Sherlock. It is not the predictable tones that are disappointing but in how they are navigated. Heister and conned come together, Talking Heads is belted out in record-scratch moments that display more character and story than any dialogue spilling from the mouth of bomber jacket, sunglasses-wearing Stan. Indoor sunglasses are cool only when worn by Jack Nicholson, Ricard Hawley or those with a bout of glaucoma. Stan is neither, and although there is a fine moment where he knocks back a tremendous glass of champagne, the high-life rumbles on. Viewers are shown it, never engaged in it, and are out of it before the heist and con angles ever take shape.