Movie Review: “Holmes and Watson” – Shit, Sherlock

Written by Jeremiah Greville January 10, 2019

I know, I know, but I went anyway. I was excited for Holmes & Watson from the first ridiculous trailer. It didn’t look great, but it seemed like the kind of comedy that wasn’t trying to be. There’s gold to be mined in the muck sometimes. I thought it would be a silly romp with a respected American comedy duo doing their best spin on England’s famed detective. But then the reviews started to come in, and the marketing all but disappeared. Then came the news that Sony tried selling the film to Netflix prior to its release—and that Netflix refused. This was a bad film, a legendary failure. A stain on the good records of everyone who worked on it. And yet, I still liked the bad trailer. I had to give it a shot.

Holmes & Watson stars Will Ferrell as Sherlock Holmes and John C. Reilly as Dr. John Watson. If you’re reading this, then you probably knew that much already. The film briefly introduces their relationship before setting them on a ho-hum mystery to save the queen from a threat by the evil Professor Moriarty (Ralph Feinnes). The plot, however, isn’t important this time around, and that’s probably a first for any Sherlock Holmes property. Holmes & Watson is all about the gags, and while there are many, few are worthy of praise. Watson lactates, there’s a musical number, and Billy Zane shows up at one point. The surprise cameos are a bore, and the cast is wasted. I laughed a lot, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

“You will have temporary brain damage.”

Yes, you read that correctly. I laughed quite a bit at Holmes & Watson. There’s a difference between laughing at a comedian’s jokes and laughing at them because their fly is down. There was plenty of the latter in the theatre viewing I recently attended. But now we’re in risky territory. These days, there’s a strong desire among “so bad it’s good” film fans for awful films to fill their irony hole. I don’t count myself among them, even as I’ve found plenty to love in the occasional Samurai Cop or The Room. I don’t seek out bad films, outside of review curiosity. I don’t want to give the impression that Holmes & Watson is the type of bad these fans might be clamouring for. It’s not a future midnight-movie classic. MST3K wouldn’t touch this.


Instead, the laughter I experienced in the theatre was abstract, almost spiritual. It was a laughter at the fact that this—THIS–was made, and the world that allowed it. And like clockwork, each scene brought on that feeling again. This, really? No, wait—now this? You can see the bad timing in the jokes, and all of the missed opportunities for experimentation. Holmes & Watson feels a bit like an improvised film where all of the worst takes were chosen for the final cut. And yet, there are some inspired bits that struggle against the rest, like a cruel elastic band snapping back into place with a dull and painful ‘thwack’. It’s rough and unpleasant and awe-inspiring. Like a sandpaper sex toy, a few moments of pleasure don’t make up for all that pain.

“I don’t deserve nice things.”

Such is the case with the extended cast. Ferrell and Reilly do their best with the material, and their commitment to the central bit shows how good this film could have been under other circumstances. Yet everyone else is lost in script and direction that makes them all seem far worse than they are. Kelly Macdonald puts on a good effort as this version’s Miss Hudson, but seems like she’s acting without support or outside consideration. Lauren Lapkus hams it up effectively as a feral simpleton with a secret, but her bit gets old quickly. Rob Brydon, a genuinely funny man, is given zero laughs at all. Hugh Laurie and Ralph Fiennes have a go when the script lets them, but the script rarely does. And Rebecca Hall should consult a damned priest to remove the curse that led her to Iron Man 3, and now this.

It’s shocking. Whether miscast or mismanaged, every supporting character in the film is terrible. Holmes & Watson can’t decide if it wants its leads to exist in a comic world or a realistic one, and as a result everyone else is left figuring out what to do scene to scene. Adam McKay, director of all of Ferrell and Reilly’s previous collaborations, is sorely missed here. Writer-director Etan Cohen doesn’t know what to do with his cast, and his script doesn’t serve them well. The only through-line is Ferrell and Reilly, but even their characters are thoughtless contradictions. Is Holmes an idiot-savant or simply brilliant? Is Watson a good doctor and detective, or a bumbling sidekick? These questions are central to other adaptations—here, they’re glaring, unsolved problems.

“Just stop talking.”

I’d love to savagely take down this film for posterity, but I can’t. So many good actors and ideas went into the mix only to be obscured or outright tainted by the final product that it doesn’t seem fair. Holmes & Watson is a shame. I laughed a lot, and yet I can’t properly credit the film with more than a few of them. It’s not the worst movie of the year, and honestly isn’t worth viewing even ironically. There were some funny bits early on that gave me hope in the final product. By the end, that hope was gone. I had a good time in the theatre watching the film, but it was practically cruel. If this was a play, the actors would be too ashamed to bow, and I wouldn’t feel right forcing that humiliation on them. There’s no mystery to Holmes & Watson. It sucks. Sometimes films do.

My Rating: 3.5/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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