Holmes & Watson (2018)
They don’t have a clue.
All my ‘holmies’ know that I generally like Will Ferrell comedies — just look at my positive write-ups for his critically panned The House (2017) and Get Hard (2015). That being said, when I heard that the ‘funny man’ was re-teaming with his Step Brothers (2008)/ Talladega Nights (2006) co-star John C. Reilly I was pretty excited, seeing as the pair hasn’t shared the screen together for ten long years. Granted, I wasn’t expecting a cinematic masterpiece; I was, at the very least, hoping for a dumb popcorn comedy that’d go down well over the Christmas break. Alarm bells started to ring, however, when there were no pre-release media screenings; in spite of this, I remained somewhat hopeful.
So, come opening day, and I braved the multiplex crowds (which I don’t normally do) to check out this anticipated reunion of sorts, only to be severely let down, as Holmes & Watson, Ferrell and Reilly’s third collaboration, is an out-and-out dud. The film contains fewer laughs than the one-minute Wix commercial that Ferrell featured in early last year!
Commencing with a quote from Hannah Montana (yep, you read that right), Holmes & Watson opens by introducing our titular twosome — the world’s greatest sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) and his bumbling subordinate Dr. John Watson (John C. Reilly) — as they’re running late for the trial of their arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty (a completely wasted Ralph Fiennes). Once there, Holmes deduces that the man they’ve caught is a decoy, and that the real Moriarty is still out there, bound to strike again. From there, it’s off to a surprise birthday party for Holmes at Buckingham Palace, where a dead body is found inside a massive magnifying glass cake, along with a message from criminal mastermind Moriarty, stating that Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) will be his next target. Naturally, Her Majesty tasks Holmes with investigating the threat, which, not only leads our heroes to a number of kooky suspects but encourages them to confront their own shaky relationship along the way.
Lampooning the public domain’s most famous detective should have been slim pickings for Ferrell, because, heck, it’s the kind of thing he’s able to do in his sleep. Moreover, Arthur Conan Doyle’s world feels like the perfect fit for Ferrell and Reilly’s God-given talents, given their onscreen chemistry and charisma in the past. So, what went so terribly wrong? Let’s do some detecting and find out.
Firstly, I’ll start with the good. Yes, there are a few positives to be found, even if they’re as scarce as laughs. A handful of gags actually work, including a short-lived Ghost (1990) spoof that sees Watson fall for an American doctor named Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) while they remove icing off a cadaver and listen to the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Unchained Melody.’ The slow-motion/ ‘Sherlock Vision’ quips, clearly mocking Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, are also fun, these bits showing how the detective mathematically breaks down every possible outcome to overcome a conflict or solve a puzzle. A random musical number, ‘Full-Throated Love Song,’ written and composed by Alan Menken, Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Glenn Slater, Tangled (2010), should’ve been a winner (it’s just okay), but the ‘No shit Sherlock’ line, delivered by a bunch of Oliver Twist-looking kids, is at least kinda funny.
Okay, now on to the bad. The script, penned by Etan Cohen, Get Hard (2015), is painfully unfunny, and his direction vanilla at best — it honestly feels as though the whole movie were shot in a single take, and needed to be done quickly for a December release (the improvisation, line-readings, and staging all suck). The film’s main joke (that Sherlock isn’t as smart as he thinks he is) isn’t particularly droll either, coming off as lazy and uninspired. There’s another ‘meh’ sub-plot that centers on Holmes, who’s trying to find the perfect hat to go with his attire — boring! We also get a number of anti-Trump references and jabs towards America (i.e., gun jokes), because, apparently, that’s what people want from their entertainment these days. There’s no mystery in the key case either, which is solved without even batting an eyelid. Heck, the movie’s supposedly set in the 1800s, yet the last act revolves around the launch of the Titanic, whose ill-fated voyage didn’t take place until 1912 — talk about confused! And speaking of confused, the film is so higgledy-piggledy that there are two different prologues going around, one involving a donkey and the other a vegetable garden — what a mess!
Furthermore, the whole thing looks bargain-basement; its Victorian-era costumes designed by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, Alfie (2004), and sets by James Hambidge, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), scream cheap and nasty.
Faring better (just a little) are the let’s-hit-someone-over-the-head physical gags. A scene where the Baker Street boys accidentally unleash a bunch of killer bees whilst trying to squat a lousy mosquito is passable, while some of the childish slapstick (Holmes and Watson pummel Queen Victoria after they knock her out trying to take a self-photograph) is admittedly entertaining. Just on that, there’s a ton of unimaginative jokes aimed at outdated 19th-century concepts and tech, where characters use old-school gadgets in contemporary ways. For instance, Holmes and Watson try to take a selfie with Queen Victoria using an ancient camera; there’s another bit involving Watson, who sends his lady friend a ‘drunk text’ and ‘dick pic’ via telegram, and a Pay-Per-View fight that suggests Holmes originally created the service.
Concerning performances, Will Ferrell portrays Holmes like a man-child who’s pretending to be an upper-class Brit, while John C. Reilly is just as buffoonish as his faithful sidekick Watson, who constantly compliments Holmes on how clever he thinks he is.
The rest of the cast looks as though they’re lost, trying to find a good joke in amongst their lines. Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), has nothing to do as ‘a woman doctor’ who digs electroshock therapy, either does Lauren Lapkus, Jurassic World (2015), who plays her feral companion, Millie. Other A-listers are outright squandered, such as Hugh Laurie, House (2004-12), who shows up as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, co-stars of 2017’s The Trip to Spain, who elevate the proceedings mildly as a one-armed tattooist named Gustav and the famed inspector Lestrade, respectively. Kelly Macdonald, T2 Trainspotting (2017), does okay as Holmes’ promiscuous secretary Mrs. Hudson, while a brilliant third act cameo almost saves the whole ship from sinking (pun intended).
It’s been rumored that following disastrous test screenings, studio Sony tried to off-sell this rush-job to Netflix, who rightfully declined. And I can understand why, as Holmes & Watson is the equivalent of finding coal in your stocking come Christmas morning; Sherlock Holmes deserves better, and you do, too. If you want to see a Sherlock parody, the answer’s elementary — stick with 1988’s Without a Clue.
1.5 / 5 – Poor
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Holmes & Watson is released through Sony Pictures Australia