Holmes & Watson (2018) Review
A SKETCH COMEDY DISASTER
The game is afoot” is the classic moniker catchphrase that’s accompany with the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes. Created by Sir Author Conan Doyle, the character of Sherlock Holmes (and his residence 221B Baker Street in London, England) has enchanted readers and viewers alike, following the clever English detective (usually set in the Victorian era) as he solves cases and mysterious. The character has plenty of other friends and enemies along the way, including Dr. John Watson (Sherlock’s faithful companion assistant), his brother Mycroft, and Scotland yard’s Inspector Lestrad, Sherlock’s landlord Mrs. Hudson, and his longtime rival Professor James Moriarty. Sherlock Holmes has become a classic literary character for decades, translating beyond the writing page as been feature in other mediums and facets, including the realm of TV and movies like 1939’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1959’s The Hound of Baskerville, 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes, 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, BBC’s crime drama TV show Sherlock (2010 to present), and (most recently from the time of this post) 2018’s Sherlock Gnomes. Now, Sony / Columbia Pictures and director Etan Cohen present the latest cinematic iteration of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with the comedy film Holmes & Watson. Does this find movie “follow the clues” to comedic gold or does get lost within its own mystery and paradoxical conundrum laziness?
As a bullied child from a poor family, Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) learned to control his emotions, closing off his heart and channeling his energy into the vastness of his mind, learning to hone his intellect and become the world’s greatest detective. Aiding Sherlock on his quest of solving cases is his lifelong friend and partner Dr. John Watson (John C. Reilly), a supportive assistant who tries to be there for his brilliant companion. During a birthday celebration, which is hosted by Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris), a dead body is found inside a cake, inspiring Holmes and Watson to discover just what happened. The pair suspect the return of Professor James Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes), Sherlock’s eternal nemesis mastermind, commencing an investigation that takes them across London to find clues, paired with Americans Dr. Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and her ward, Millie (Lauren Lapkus), who’s been raised by feral cats. Meeting strange and obscure suspects and confronting their own troubled relationship, Holmes and Watson inch close to Moriarty, only to find their own personal insecurities blocking the solution to solving the case.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
To be honest, while I’ve been a fan of reading books and all things literary, I’ve actually never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works on Sherlock Holmes (or any other author that has built upon the Sherlock Holmes mythos). And yet, despite that, I’ve actually gotten a good understanding of the character and the persona that’s usually accustom to London’s greatest detective. Probably my first “taste” of the Sherlock Holmes was from Disney’s 1986 animated film The Great Mouse Detective, setting up the classic “sherlock” persona and introducing me to Doyle’s character (albeit through animated creatures). Of course, I’ve seeing plenty of other iterations and parodies with Sherlock Holmes, with some just recently like Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (love Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Sherlock and Watson) as well as the BBC show Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Sherlock Holmes on that). Suffice to say, that the very nature of Sherlock Holmes is something of a mixture of cheekiness and cleverness and that’s something that a fictional character (on whatever platform) is always something worth watching and / or reading about. At least, I personally think so (I’ll never get old of the character).
This, of course, brings me to talking about Holmes & Watson, a 2018 comedy film and the latest offering from Hollywood to showcase the Sherlock Holmes premise. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie until fairly recently (a few months back) when the film’s trailer was released on-line. To be even further honest, after seeing the trailer for the movie, I wasn’t too keen on seeing the movie. From what I saw, it looked like just another “Ferrell and Reilly” movie romp with bland gags and jokes, which was framed within the context of Doyle’s famous detective. So, I wasn’t too keen on seeing this movie. This was also furthered added by all the early / advance reviews for the movie, ranging from bad to deplorable (some considering it to be the worst movie of 2018). That being said, I was a bit curious to see how bad this movie really was and decided (against my better judgement) went to the movie after I got off from work from a quick Saturday afternoon matinee. So, what did I think of Holmes & Watson? Well, to be honest, the reviews for this movie are correct as Holmes & Watson is lazy comedy that relies too heavily on outdate gags and leaves a very unsatisfying and tasteless viewing experience. It may not be my personal worst movie of 2018, but it’s definitely scraping the “bottom of the barrel” of bad movies released this year.
Holmes & Watson is directed by Etan Cohen, whose previous works include being a screenplay writer for movies like Tropic Thunder, Men in Black 3, and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa as well as directing the comedy film Get Hard (which also featured actor Will Ferrell). It’s really hard to find something positive about this movie as there’s so much unmemorable and unfunny bits to it all. That being said, Cohen approaches the movie with the same type of framework that found success in the other Ferrell / Reilly team movies (i.e. Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). Thus, it’s hard to fully judge a movie like this as Cohen doesn’t expect viewers to be “blown away” by the feature, even with the narrative premise following a Sherlock Holmes storyline motif. Additionally, despite the movie not being…well good…Cohen does make the film breezy, finding Holmes & Watson clocking in at around 90 minutes long (the somewhat standard runtime for the average animated feature). Thus, Cohen doesn’t over extend the movie not much longer than what it needs to be as Holmes & Watson tells its story (for better or worse) and gets out rather quickly, which (in hindsight) is a good thing.
The film’s technical / presentation is rather good (and probably one of the few saving graces of the feature) are surprisingly rather good (something that I wasn’t quite expecting from such lazy movie). The period costumes (styled in the classic Victorian England designs) by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor are mostly pretty good and detailed as well as the set / productions designs James Hambidge and set decorations by Nimah Coulter that provide the overall “look and feel” of 18th Century London, England (something akin to the classic setting of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures. The cinematography work by Oliver Wood is okay as there a few scenes that cleverly done, but most of those are few and far between with the rest producing some generic comedy film techniques in bland and unflattering way. Yes, these filmmaking categories will mostly not be nominated for any awards during this upcoming award season (nor will it make the movie memorable), but the efforts by these individuals are quite admirable, especially since majority of the rest of movie is particular uninteresting. Lastly, the film’s score, composed by Christophe Beck and Mark Mothersbaugh is okay as it gets the job done, but it’s nothing truly memorable or download the film’s soundtrack.
Of course (I’m sure you would’ve been waiting to hear this), Holmes & Watson is truly a far cry from being a decent and / or good movie; finding majority of the feature to be completely lazy and uninspiring from start to finish. Naturally, the film is supposed to be comedy endeavor, which means that the feature would be hilarious, especially when the movie stars the comedic paring of Ferrell and Reilly once again. Unfortunately, Holmes & Watson doesn’t have the particular knack of cultivating laughs, leaving most of the picture bland for unfunny tomfoolery and stupid buffoonery. What do I mean? Well, the success of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights (for better or worse) was known for director Adam McKay, honing in on the styles that both Ferrell and Reilly provided and allowing both to improvise within each film’s respective narrative premise. That being said, Cohen doesn’t really break any new ground in this particular film; providing little to no creative room for the main comedy duo to express within Holmes & Watson and (for better terms) the rest of the feature. Thus, the film’s comedy styles are rather boring and bland and (sorry to be harsh) quite unfunny. I personally did not laugh at all during the movie and I usually enjoy a good comedy movie, especially ones that has absurdities and goofiness throughout (i.e. Super Troopers, Blockers, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Holmes & Watson, unfortunately, just had rather dull and crude jokes / gags that aren’t creative nor clever enough to “tickle an average moviegoer’s respective” funny bone. In short, the comedy in the film is boring, dull, and uninspiring, providing lazy work and producing comedy that’s DOA.
Additionally, the film’s jokes and gags are truly outdated, recalling back to the 2000s era of comedy movies where more “broad comedy slapsticks” (something like Step Brothers and Talladega Nights and several others) populated the decade at the movies. Sadly, Holmes & Watson tries to “bank” on that particular style of comedy and comes up short, with many of the jokes and gags feeling like outdated “eye rolling” inducing material from a decade and not knowning their target audience with changing times of the movie genre and the viewers that watch it. Thus, if the movie was released back during 2006 or 2007, Cohen’s film could’ve been received slightly better. In reality, however, that’s not the case, finding the movie arriving a decade too late and finding the general public of moviegoer viewers not interested the broad comedy styles of this particular nature. What’s even worse was the simple fact that the movie tries a bit too hard when it comes to trying to land punchlines from today’s world. This includes references to selfies, battleship, and Trump jokes (i.e. Make London / England Great Again). I know tactics like this have been before in the movies, but their inclusion in Holmes & Watson is incredibly stupid and pointless, especially since it really can’t connect with the Victorian era setting and feels forced. Basically, all of the film’s verbal jokes and brain-dead slapstick gags are horrible and feel like relics of a bygone age of comedy features (having no place in this era of movies).
Sadly, the insult to injury doesn’t stop as Cohen also provides the film’s script, and his involvement in that particular department doesn’t help Holmes & Watson…in fact it hinders it even further. Again, I wasn’t really expecting anything grand or theatrically dramatic from such a movie like this, but I was expecting at least something fairly decent for a narrative plot. Unfortunately, Cohen can’t really muster anything creatively in the film’s script, which is handled with clunky dialogue and uneven pacing throughout. This also extends to the film’s main story, which is fairly thinly and totally ridiculous, even with the Sherlock Holmes overlay. Of course, the movie utilizes all the classic character from the Sherlock Holmes tales (i.e. Sherlock, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Moriarty), but they all feel like caricatures shells other Doyle’s creation. Even Cohen creates a messy plot, which is rather bland, that doesn’t have enough substance to take on a feature length feature. This, of course, is made for room of the film’s humor, which (again) features outdated material, ridiculously stupid absurdities, and truly unremarkable laughs.
Furthermore, the film’s so-called “twist” feels hollow and seems completely out of left field, especially since the character of which revolves around the twist is barely in the movie. Additionally, Cohen even tries to imitate Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes from Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes iteration (using the slow-motion and methodical inner voice dialogue of Sherlock to cultivate a precise plan of action). It’s fun gimmick that worked in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (and its sequel) and Cohen seems to make a comedic parody of that within Holmes & Watson. Unfortunately, it feels like a cheap movie and, while the first time is quite amusing, the other several times it’s utilized it becomes tedious and wasteful and unoriginal. Altogether, Cohen doesn’t have a great handle on the film’s script as well as helming the movie, finding it difficult to find a sort of “happy comedy” medium balance. Instead, Cohen ends up with a choppy and half-baked parody of Doyle’s famous super sleuth and doesn’t know how to refine the character and decides to go with lackadaisical humor and poor storytelling.
All of these negative criticisms’ feeds into the film’s cast. Don’t get me wrong, the cast of Holmes & Watson has several recognizable faces from today’s current Hollywood. Sadly, all of the film’s cast (be major or minor) are completely and utterly wasted on this project. It’s not so much on their acting talents, but rather the material handed to them and trying to work with what Cohen wants for them. Sadly, the end result is less than favorable, finding most of the talents involve atrociously wasted on the film. Of course, the big headliner of the feature are the film’s main protagonist characters of Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr. John Watson, who are played by comedian actors Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly respectfully. Ferrell, known for his roles in Saturday Night Live, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and Blaze of Glory, was once at the top of his game, honing his inherent comedy and goofy nuances within multiple feature films throughout the late 90s. However, Ferrell’s comedic talents have had a sort of “fall from grace” with the actor starring in less than humorous roles and just not being funny as he once was (see Daddy’s Home and The House). The current on-going trend of Ferrell’s comedic slump continues in Holmes & Watson, finding Ferrell (and possibly Cohen) playing up his usually shtick of acting goofy and screaming / yelling a lot. There are a few moments in the movie where Ferrell shines, but those moments retreat quickly in banal and unfunny comedy bits. This also makes the character of Sherlock Holmes (iconic as he is) rather boring and hard to stomach, with Cohen making Doyle’s famous character a cross between a completely clueless buffoon and a pompous egomaniac that’s too smart for his own good. It’s hard to tell which one he truly is in the movie. There’s even a plot that revolves around his emotions (choosing logical over his heart that was triggered during his childhood), but the story never fully develops that beyond a few gross / wacky comedy moments. In the end, Ferrell’s Sherlock Holmes is another generic and clueless caricature iteration that the actor has played many times before (think of Rick Bobby in Victorian era London and that’s his persona of Holmes).
Fairing slightly better is Reilly, known for his roles in Wreck-It Ralph, Chicago, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, as Dr. Watson, who as bit more humor-based lines that land more so than his co-star. In truth, Reilly has a better understanding of humor than Ferrell as this movie showcases that, finding the actor to perform almost all of his scenes in a better light. That being said, Reilly doesn’t have much character development with Watson, despite the usual motives of him being “lesser known” within Sherlock Holmes’s shadow. This also includes some weird sequences (like Watson following in love with the Queen of England). Plus, despite his talents, Reilly can’t help in handling (and speaking) Cohen’s clunky dialogue, which doesn’t help the film’s tasteless and outdated humor. Together, both Ferrell and Reilly share excellent on-screen chemistry (as seeing in Step Brothers and Talladega Nights) and do so again in Holmes & Watson, but (again) it all feels very much bland and needlessly “eye rolling” when their on-screen actors have one-dimensional characters and woefully and painfully dialogue lines of humor. Thus, the on-screen reunion of Ferrell and Reilly is disappointing, especially within a project like this.
The disappointment also extends to the film’s supporting cast of characters, who (like Ferrell and Reilly) are terribly wasted on a stupidly bland film project like this; almost an acting as a “disservice” to the film career and their acting talents. This is mostly apparent with actor Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter series and Schindler’s List), who plays the character of Professor James Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes’s arch-rival). Fiennes definitely as the right amount of acting talents to tackle the character of Moriarty (an almost perfect casting decision). Unfortunately, he’s definitely in the wrong Sherlock Holmes movie and is hopelessly underutilized in the movie. Other supporting players, including actress Kelly MacDonald (Brave and Boardwalk Empire) as Mrs. Hudson (Sherlock Holmes’s landlord), actor Hugh Laurie (House and The Night Manager) as Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock Holmes’s brother), actress Rebecca Hall (The Town and Iron Man 3) as Dr. Grace Hart (an American Doctor that assist Holmes and Watson with their case), actress Lauren Lapkus (Jurassic World and Orange is the New Black) as Millie (an eccentric / feral female that Dr. Hart looks after), actor Rob Brydon (Human Remains and The Trip) as Inspector Lestrade, actor Steve Coogan (Philomena and Alan Partridge) as Gustav Klinger, and actress Pam Ferris (Matilda and Children of Men) as Queen Victoria, are also wasted in this movie, playing utterly weak and pointless characters and never truly allowing the respective actor / actress in fully shine. There is one cameo towards the end of the movie, which is pretty funny (one of the only times that I laughed in the movie), but I won’t spoil it.
The game is afoot as the comedic styles of Ferrell and Reilly return together on-screen in the movie Holmes & Watson. Director Etan Cohen latest film sees the comedic pairing re-team once again by playing up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective duo (Holmes and Watson) in a parody version solving the cases and thwarting a mastermind plan against the evil Moriarty. Sadly, despite the on-screen chemistry Ferrell and Reilly, the rest of the movie is utterly terrible and almost downright deplorable. From start to finish, the feature is riddled with problem…. from the poor directing, weak script, clunky dialogue, unfunny jokes, outdated gags, a wasted opportunity for the entire cast, and just a plan and simple brainless entertainment that’s not even well…entertaining. Personally, this movie was terrible. Like I said, I knew that this movie was going to be “comedic gold”, but it’s even worth silver or bronze…it’s just so ridiculously stupid and painfully insulting to watch. Trust me…I’ve seeing worse movies out there, but this one is definitely within that category of being the worst movies of 2018. How did I movie like this ever get “greenlit” by Sony / Columbia Pictures. Thus, you can already surmise that my personal recommendation for Holmes & Watson is definite “skip it” as there’s no real reason to watch this uninspiring and lazy comedy feature. It’s clear to see why that Netflix didn’t want to buy this movie from Sony Pictures. Basically, you’re better watching Step Brothers or Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which looks like masterpiece compared to this film. In the end, the stinging failure of Holmes & Watson is not that really hard to swallow (or imagine) as is just simply a lousy cinematic comedy feature from start to finish. You don’t have to be the great Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this movie is just bad.
1.6 Out 5 (Skip It)
Released On: December 25th, 2018
Reviewed On: December 31st, 2018
Holmes & Watson is 90 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for crude sexual material, some violence, language and drug reference