Holmes & Watson




Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly team up for the fourth time to play Sherlock and his sidekick in a madcap, nonsensical shambles.


Holmes & Watson

Dumb and dumber: John C. Reilly uses a karate chop and Will Ferrell a cricket bat to best a mosquito 


The main joke in this Origins Comedy is that the quintessentially English sleuth is played by an American. The other big gag, in the tradition of Inspector Clouseau and Johnny English, is that he’s a complete idiot. So, as Peter Sellers took the Michel out of the French in The Pink Panther films, so Will Ferrell adopts a jokey English accent, with John C. Reilly, as Dr Watson, following suit. Bizarrely, the London-born Rebecca Hall plays an American, Grace Hart, who immediately falls for the inexplicable charms of Watson. Of course, nothing makes sense in this frenetic, extended sketch in which historical figures are introduced just for the hell of it. Historians will blanch. A genuine English woman, Pam Ferris, plays a suitably forbidding Queen Victoria, with whom Watson immediately falls in lust. But she could not have boarded the Titanic, as it wasn’t even commissioned until seven years after her death. But one makes allowances for comedy, even the amalgamation of such characters as a lusty Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and Harry Houdini, all of whom share the same bed chamber, the Artful Dodger and an aged Mahatma Gandhi. When all else fails, the conscientious critic looks elsewhere to summon praise. I was admiring the production design, when I became perplexed by the leaves cloaking the pavements of Baker Street, swirling around the lampposts. I just wondered where they came from.


The story, the axle on which the comedy rotates, concerns Watson’s desire to become an equal to his learned friend, although he’s largely treated as a sacrificial lamb and all-round punch bag. The other narrative strand follows Sherlock’s quest to locate the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes), before the latter makes good on his promise to assassinate the Queen. Complications ensue.


The dialogue, crafted by the film’s director Etan Cohen, is at pains to recreate the argot of the time, which more could have been made of. But even this is relinquished in the name of the film’s misogynistic humour, so that when the loyal Mrs Hudson (Kelly Macdonald) is unveiled as a nymphomaniac, Watson barks: “No wonder my room always smells of fish pie and semen!” However, we do learn a few new things about Sherlock: he had a speech impediment, he was a horrible kisser and was stupid enough to attack a mosquito with a cricket bat.


One does wonder how the romp managed to attract a cast of the calibre of Rebecca Hall, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Macdonald and Hugh Laurie. The answer may lie with the film’s producer, Adam McKay, the creative partner of Ferrell, who has since gone on to direct the award-winning The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). However, Etan Cohen’s last directorial effort, Get Hard, was met with critical derision, albeit not on quite the same scale as Holmes & Watson, which initially received an approval rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. For the biography of a man dedicated to logic, albeit a rip-roaring farce, it is a shame that the first thing to fly out the window is any sense of logic. Notwithstanding, having seen the film at a well-attended public matinee, I did hear one patron laugh once.




Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Lauren Lapkus, Pam Ferris, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Macdonald, Noah Jupe, Michael Culkin, Bronson Webb, Billy Zane, Hugh Laurie.


Dir Etan Cohen, Pro Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller and Clayton Townsend, Screenplay Etan Cohen, Ph Oliver Wood, Pro Des James Hambidge, Ed Erik Jessen and Dean Zimmerman, Music Mark Mothersbaugh, Costumes Beatrix Aruna Pasztor.


Columbia Pictures/Gary Sanchez Productions/Mosaic Media Group/Mimran Schur Pictures-Sony Pictures

89 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 26 December 2018. Cert. 12A.