Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective has known many faces throughout his life, and Will Ferrell is the latest with a comedic take on the character. Or, at least, that’s how it should be – Holmes & Watson is a dreadful watch that fails to conjure up many laughs, wasting its incredible cast in the process.
‘Sherlock Holmes’ (Will Ferrell) and ‘Dr John Watson’ (John C. Reilly) are a detective team who stumble upon a mysterious murder at Buckingham Palace, finding the chase is afoot once more. All signs point to Holmes’ nemesis, ‘Professor James Moriarty’ (Ralph Fiennes), but the detective suspects something more sinister is going on. The world’s greatest detective and his trusted assistant must piece together the clues to catch the killer before the Queen becomes the next victim.
The material is truly naff, with tons of outdated references and tired humour
Now, let’s get it out of the way nice and early – Holmes & Watson is painfully unfunny, despite a really talented cast of comedic actors. The material is truly naff, with tons of outdated references and tired humour (and heads up to all comedy writers – knowing winks to the audience about how much you disagree with Donald Trump are not interchangeable with jokes). The movie’s not even consistent on where it wants to plant its humour. There are some quite clever attempts to satirise Victorian-era medicine and health care (note: clever, not funny), but they’re drowned out by an overlong and lazy gag that women can be doctors. There are a few laughs – some of the more stupid moments of physical humour and a few good subversions of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock’s fight scenes are worth a chuckle, and there’s a fantastic cameo at the end that really got me – but that’s about it.
Well, we can’t rely on the jokes, but any Holmes story guarantees a mystery of some description – is that any good? Again, not really. We’re not watching this in the hope of some great crime story, but at least some degree of coherence would’ve been nice. The story is not particularly interesting, and the identity of the criminal prompts no reaction whatsoever – Sherlock gets the only clue that helps after we’ve learned who the villain is, defeating the dramatic reveal the film wants to give them. Let’s talk casting. Ferrell and Reilly are brilliant together as a comedic double act, but that doesn’t come across here. The movie never quite pitches how we should understand Ferrell’s Holmes (a gifted genius or a bumbling fool), and it makes it very hard to buy into the character. Reilly’s Watson suffers too, as a buddy character whose role is to suffer emotional and physical pain. We’re supposed to buy into his torment as Sherlock refuses to respect him but, despite Reilly’s ability, the material just isn’t there to make it work.
The rest of the cast lose out too, in part because there’s nothing really for them to do. Rob Brydon (‘Lestrade’), Hugh Laurie (‘Mycroft’) and Fiennes are game for the silliness they’ve been given, but they’re barely onscreen and they lose out even more than the leads (and we know that all three can be incredibly funny with good material). Rebecca Hall (‘Dr Grace Hart’) and Kelly Macdonald (‘Mrs Hudson’) get more time but lose out too – they are set up as ‘women with funny voices’ and that’s essentially the end of that. Are there any bright spots in Holmes & Watson? We can pinpoint a few – Mark Mothersbaugh’s score, a comedic styling reminiscent of the Hans Zimmer Sherlock Holmes score, is genuinely quite good. There’s also a new Alan Menken song towards the film’s end which is typically strong (although if you want a Menken interlude in a John C. Reilly film, go and watch Ralph Wrecks the Internet – it’s so much better).
the film is incredibly lazy and uninspired
There are good moments in Holmes & Watson, but they are the briefest of moments – the film is incredibly lazy and uninspired, and despite the best efforts of the cast, the material is beyond saving. There’s a point in the film in which Watson, in disguise, screams ‘Horseshit for sale! Will anyone buy my horse’s shit?’ – I imagine that anyone who buys a ticket to watch Holmes & Watson will enjoy a similar experience.