Audiences expect a Sherlock Holmes movie to be clever, and audiences expect a comedy to be clever, but here we have a comedy take on Sherlock Holmes that is quite simply… witless.
How long must we endure Will Farrell’s endless parade of boorish, aggressive man-children? From Frank the Tank in Old School to Ron Burgundy in Anchorman to Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights to Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory to Brennan Huff in Step Brothers and all the dolts in between, has any comedian since Adam Sandler worn out our collective patience playing the same variation on a theme for so long? Good Christ, Anchorman was released fifteen fucking years ago!
John C. Reilly tries here; he really does. Such is his skill at acting and such is my love for his performances that his presence alone kept me from walking out on this terrible movie. Reilly has the ability to take really weak material and turn it into something funny. My one laugh during this film was when Reilly’s Watson, convinced no one in the scene is actually listening to him, says quietly, “Because I don’t deserve nice things.”
I guess neither does the audience.
Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, another patron walked in about forty minutes into the tfilm, sat two rows behind me, ate a very noisy lunch, and then walked out before the film was over. There’s a perfect blurb for the DVD cover: “Holmes & Watson: The Perfect Film For When You’re Looking For Somewhere to Sit Down and Eat Your Lunch.”
Speaking of lunch, Gene Siskel once famously asked, “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” The answer here is a resounding no. The cast here is wasted. Kelly McDonald, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Laurie, Lauren Lapkus, and Rebecca Hall all spent a few weeks in impeccable period costumes, eating what I hope was exquisite craft service, and collected a paycheck. You know that you are in trouble when two of your supporting performers (Coogan and Brydon) trading Michael Caine impressions off the cuff in their film The Trip is more entertaining than your entire scripted film. “They didn’t have to blow the bloody doors off, did they?”
TANGENT: At this point I need to invoke what I call the “Charlie Chaplin Rule.” Dozens of dozens of comedians are content to begin a task, muck it up, and think that mucking it up makes it funny. Most of the time, it doesn’t. Laurel and Hardy are one of the few comedy teams that were able to make incompetence funny because the incompetence plays off the strong characters they created. Ollie falling in a lake isn’t funny by itself; it’s funny because he has insisted that he is the only one who can be trusted NOT to fall in the lake. “Here, let me do it!” is a line popularized by Oliver Hardy, and it came to foreshadow all the times he took it on the chin because of his inflated ego and personal hubris.
Yet in Holmes & Watson, Ferrell and Reilly flounder around for the whole 90 minutes, executing poorly rehearsed and poorly filmed physical comedy, or making “jokes” that are not jokes (for example, they use an enormous turn-of-the-century camera on a bulky tripod to take a selfie.) They waste the audience’s time and the talents of their costars, all in the service of a plot which, if you have any prior knowledge of Holmes or of Hollywood casting traditions, you will have figured out in the film’s first ten minutes.
Holmes & Watson was the first film I saw in a theater in 2019. The rest of my movie year can only get better.