One comes away from HOLMES AND WATSON bemused. The stunning lack of entertainment value in a film starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly is almost a body blow, such is its unremitting ineptitude. Using as its premise the same spoofery done much better by the Wayans Brothers in their series of SCARY MOVIE riffs, HOLMES AND WATSON takes his tissue thin premise and, effectively, blows its nose into it.
This iteration of Holmsiana reimagines the iconic detective and his stalwart companion as oblivious idiots bumbling their way through yet another encounter with the Napoleon of Crime himself, Professor Moriarity (Ralph Fiennes). It’s not really a fair fight, but it is a confusing one. This Holmes is more obsessed with finding the perfect hat for his type of head than in fighting crime, while his penchant for wearing a corset is never mentioned, much less explained, though he sports it at several points. Watson has self-esteem issues that manifest themselves in his idolization of Holmes to the point that having his life threatened by the detective as a means to solving crime is met with nothing less than an appreciative smile about being allowed to take part in the process. He’s also trigger-happy. Hence his instant attraction to Dr. Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall), the Boston doctor who for some reason becomes involved in their latest case, the gun-craziness of Americans being a recurring joke. As with all jokes in this film, I use the term loosely. Meanwhile, Holmes falls for the lady doctor’s travelling companion, a backpack-wearing waif (Lauren Lapkus) raised by feral cats. It’s not nearly as funny as it sounds. Neither is the blowsy version of Mrs. Hudson played by Kelly Macdonald, nor the cocaine-fueled medicine ball interlude in a park.
The trope of anticipating such things as drunk texting and Soul Cycling, usually an easy laugh in films set in the past, consistently fails to land here. Any of the business between Farrell and Reilly sees premises play out long after anything humorous has been extracted from them. Why throw up into a wastebasket once, when you can continue the scene out for five minutes without building on it in any way shape or form? It’s as though everyone realized too late that there was only enough material for a skit like the Saturday Night Live one that inspired this, and then tried to save the day by stretching the action to its limits, and then go beyond it with callous abandon. The result is a film that is not just unfunny, but also one that is actively irritating. The acting, save for the silken Fiennes and a blessed cameo by Steve Coogan, is a self-conscious exercise in playacting without even the respite of irony.
HOLMES AND WATSON may feature a cake-encrusted corpse as an instrument of foreplay, but any edginess or sense of fun is lacking. It’s like they took one of those ci-mentioned Wayans Brothers’ movies, and worked from a 12th-generation photocopy of all the ideas those filmmakers tossed aside. That the finale features Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) visiting the Titanic (pace history buffs that know better), pretty much sums up the entire opus.