Detective Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) and his loyal assistant Dr. Watson (John C. Reilly) has just proven in court the man the police believe is the evil Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) is actually an imposter, setting him free and infuriating London police Inspector Lestrade (Rob Brydon). At a birthday party planned by Watson for Holmes and hosted by Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) at Buckingham Place, a body is discovered in a giant birthday cake. With the body is a note threatening the life of the Queen and to rewrite history. Performing the autopsy on the body is American doctor Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and her companion Millie (Lauren Lapkus). Watson immediately falls in love with Hart while Holmes becomes infatuated with Millie. Clues from the body take Holmes and Watson on a twisted journey that leads Holmes to believe someone very close to him may be the leader of the plot and a killer, but who?
I am a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. I have read several of the stories and highly recommend a British television adaption starring Jeremy Brett in the title role. While the films starring Robert Downey, Jr. were entertaining action films, I didn’t consider them a true adaption of Doyle’s stories. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray the pair in a recent BBC series. There are other adaptions dating back to the beginning of film and stage plays prior to that. Now, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly take on the mantle of the great detective duo and, between the script and their portrayal, show they are not up to the task.
“Holmes and Watson” is a bad movie in so many ways, but I’ll only cover the most glaring examples. First, the movie isn’t funny. There are plenty of very talented people on screen with decades of comedy experience both in America and in the UK. Ferrell, Reilly, Rob Brydon, Lauren Lapkus, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan and many more in the movie have been in some classic and groundbreaking comedy during their careers. In “Holmes and Watson,” the cast is hamstrung by an unfunny script. There are a few laughs scattered about but not nearly enough to fill the 90-minute running time. Much of the dialog feels riffed. The sloppy editing sometimes shows the actor saying another line but there is no audio of the line. There is then a quick edit to another camera angle. This implies there were various bits of dialog and storylines that were left on the cutting room floor. Considering what shows up on screen, it’s difficult to believe this was the best of the footage shot.
The movie also can’t decide whether Holmes is a genius or a lucky moron, so he is shown as both. There are moments where Holmes is doing the mental math in his head to calculate whether his next move with be successful. Apparently, the character is smart enough to figure out angles and speeds necessary, so his plans will succeed. When things don’t go as planned, Holmes shifts from genius to moron and freezes in place. Ferrell drifts dangerously close to what I thought of him early in his film career: A little of him goes a long way. Playing one of the title characters means Ferrell is in nearly every shot and his portrayal of Holmes wears thin very quickly.
Then there are the little things. For instance, I thought I saw some familiar characters in the backgrounds of various scenes. Nothing is ever done with these characters, so I put them out of my mind. Only when I printed off the list of actors did I learn these background characters where who I thought they were: Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud. They are never referenced, and nothing is ever done with them. I guess there were scenes including them in brief cameos, but they got cut from the final edit, yet there they are, loitering in the background. It’s clear the film makers probably shot enough alternate takes to cut together three or four movies. Since these were considered the best of the bunch, I hope we never get an alternate cut using all the stuff these didn’t use.
The physical comedy is so also unfunny. People get hit in the face, back of the head, beaten with a chair, a croquet mallet and more. Horse poop (hopefully fake) gets smeared all over Watson as a “disguise.” One character acts like a cat. A swarm of bees attacks, driving a character to jump out a window. As seen in the trailer, Queen Victoria gets hit in the face with an old-style camera. None of it generates more than a giggle, if that. It’s been a long time since the Three Stooges and physical comedy has progressed, except in “Holmes and Watson.”
“Holmes and Watson” is rated PG-13 for drug references, crude sexual material, language and some violence. Aside from the various bits of violence I described earlier, there is a knife thrown that hits a character in the side. There is also the implication that the body inside the cake is stabbed as Holmes and Watson use a sword to cut it. The sexual material is exclusively about masturbation. Holmes and Watson use cocaine. While we don’t see its use, we do see the effects. Foul language is scattered and mild, but there is one use of the “F-bomb.”
With all the very funny people, and Will Ferrell, involved in making this movie, it should have been funnier, and it should have made more sense. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There is plenty to parody about Sherlock Holmes, from his drug use to his encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything. Why writer and director Etan Cohen chose to not focus on anything in particular is a mystery worthy of the master detective.
“Holmes and Watson” gets 1 star.
There’s only one new film opening this week. I’ll see and review the following:
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