Review of “Holmes and Watson”

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:

Escape Room—

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Review of “Tomorrowland”

Frank Walker (played as a child by Thomas Robinson and as an adult by George Clooney) was a dreamer that, as a child, made a jet pack out of an old vacuum cleaner and other spare parts and entered it into an invention competition at the 1964 World’s Fair. The judge, David Nix (Hugh Laurie), was unimpressed since it didn’t work; but Athena (Raffey Cassidy) was taken with Frank’s enthusiasm. She secretly gave Frank a pin and told her to follow Nix and a group of other inventors as they took the Small World ride through the fair. Doing so transports Frank to an amazing world called Tomorrowland. A real place filled with dreamers like him who are allowed to turn those dreams into reality. In the present, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is also a dreamer who lives with her dad Eddie (Tim McGraw), a NASA engineer who will be laid off soon since the space agency doesn’t launch rockets for the foreseeable future. Casey tries to put off that future by sabotaging the cranes used to dismantle the launch pads at Cape Canaveral. Casey is arrested for her actions and when she gets bailed out finds in her belongings a pin like the one Athena gave Frank. When she touches it, she sees Tomorrowland; but it is an interactive virtual reality recording. Desperate to get there, Casey begins a search that takes her across the country, to a sci-fi/fantasy memorabilia shop run by murderous androids, meeting Athena and a decidedly grumpy grown up Frank. Casey is determined to get to Tomorrowland even if nearly everyone she encounters is equally determined to stop her.

“Tomorrowland” is a political statement delivered in the mildest of terms. It encourages public action wrapped up in a package of light entertainment. It is radical manifesto from the people who brought you “Snow White” and “Dumbo.” It’s a call to action that is delivered far too subtly to actually lead to any change. Perhaps the mild delivery was a compromise in an effort to not anger certain segments of the political spectrum but it may have been a waste of Disney’s $190-million investment. Sometimes you have to kick the bee’s nest to stir up the queen. Otherwise, “Tomorrowland” is pretty good.

What will strike audiences most is the visuals of the film. Director Brad Bird has dipped into his Pixar history to make “Tomorrowland” look absolutely amazing. From jet packs to rocket ships, everything in the city of the future looks retro cool. Based in part on the look of the attraction in Disney’s theme parks, “Tomorrowland” is glistening spires, levitating swimming pools and hover scooters all in a land surrounded by golden wheat fields, glowing trees and clear blue skies. It is the kind of utopia that writers have been dreaming of for over a century. Bird’s visual effects team is likely to receive an Oscar nod for their work and it would be much deserved.

Just behind the look of the film is the tone: Hope gushes forth from “Tomorrowland” like a geyser. There’s innocence and wide-eyed wonder infusing most of the movie that I must admit was infectious. Leaving the film, I felt good and like anything was possible. That lasted about half an hour as reality crushed my buzz. That may be the film’s biggest weakness: It doesn’t have much staying power. While it offers hope, it’s in the form of those old musicals starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney where the clichéd line, “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!” comes from. In this case, “Tomorrowland” wants us to come together and save the world. The movie implies we can do that with technology and cooperation. I don’t argue that point but I do question the film suggests to get the ball rolling. In the movie, dreamers are introduced to Tomorrowland and are invited to take part. Here in the real world, the only way things happen is with political action. Political action appears to only happen when it appeals to the base supporters of a politician. Politicians appear to only involve themselves in real change when the lobbyists support it. Lobbyists support it only if it makes their client’s money. Sadly, nobody makes any profit from the “Tomorrowland” idea hence it will never happen. Sorry if I just crushed your buzz but at my age I’ve seen too many good ideas buried under political rhetoric and inaction. It appears our leaders lack the ability to dream, to ask “what if.” Had I the power, I’d force every member of Congress, the Supreme Court and the President to watch “Tomorrowland.” I’m sure it would be fodder for the talking heads on cable news channels to rail against the filmmaker’s agenda and draw unflattering comparisons to communism, socialism, environmentalism and any other –ism they can think of. I didn’t used to be so cynical but time and experience has beaten much of my own dreamer out of me. I guess I’m far more like Clooney’s character than I am Robertson’s. That’s sad.

Sorry this hasn’t been much of a movie review and more of a diatribe. Please forgive me and I’ll try to do better next time.

“Tomorrowland” is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language. As violence and action go, the film is very mild on both counts. Younger children might be troubled by the various bits of danger young Frank gets into when he enters Tomorrowland the first time. There is a fight between two characters at the end of the film. One character is crushed to death by falling debris. Another character is shot by a ray gun of some sort and knocked across a room. Various androids are dispatched in various violent ways including being beaten by a baseball bat repeatedly. There is some foul language that is widely scattered and gets no fouler than the “S” word. There is also a British slang term for testicles used once near the end of the film.

While it tends to drag at times and could have been shorter, “Tomorrowland” is visually stunning and chocked full of hope. It is also simplistic and offers no real answers as to how to solve the world’s problems. Maybe that’s asking too much of a Disney movie but it seems like we have to start somewhere so why not in a darkened theatre.

“Tomorrowland” gets four hopeful stars out of five.

Three new films open this week ranging from classic literature to disaster porn and I’ll see at least one of them.

Aloha—

Far From the Maddening Crowd—

San Andreas—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.