I’m not going to lie, I was dreading the idea of Holmes and Watson. I have an individual appreciation of John C Reilly and Will Ferrell but the two of them together, for me, bring out the worst in each other. Step Brothers and Talladega Nights are a pair of deeply unfunny, shrill, gag fests that amount to little more than a pair of very talented comic actors screaming nonsense at each other when they aren’t violently assaulting each other or some poor supporting player.
Holmes and Watson only served to underline why I dislike Ferrell and Reilly together. Once again the duo shouts at one another and then they violently attack each other. This film throws in a terrible parody of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson alongside achingly tone deaf references to modern America politics. But, perhaps the biggest crime of Holmes and Watson is taking the brilliant actress Rebecca Hall and robbing her of her talent with a character so far beneath her she can’t help but trip.
Holmes and Watson stars Will Ferrell as the arrogant, genius detective Sherlock Holmes and Reilly as his Dr Watson. Watson has been Holmes devoted friend and sidekick since their days in school when Holmes swore off emotion in favor of the purity of logic. Together they solve London’s biggest crimes and on this day, Holmes is set to confront his nemesis, Professor Moriarty in court and send him to the gallows, but only if Holmes can first choose just the right hat.
Turns out, the man on trial isn’t Moriarty but a walking punchline for a series of abysmally unfunny masturbation jokes. The real Moriarty, according to Holmes, has fled to America. Having deduced Moriarty’s attempt to make everyone think him dead, Holmes and Watson are invited to meet the Queen but this is also a ruse. The meeting is actually Holmes’ surprise birthday party, which he deduces, just before the yelp of surprise.
Inside Holmes’ birthday cake is a corpse with a message and a brand new mystery is… on the move. Ferrell pretending toward Holmes’ trademark phrases is one of several dozen unfunny running gags in Holmes and Watson. As part of the investigation of the new mystery, Holmes and Watson are joined by an American doctor, Dr Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and her wacky sidekick Millie (Lauren Lapkus, delivering the only funny performance in the movie).
A better movie would give Hall a character to play but instead, she’s only on hand to play Watson’s love interest and the subject of Holmes’ first brush with anxiety as he worries about losing his friend to a woman. Holmes is also dealing with his first ever sexual attraction. He finds himself besotted by Millie who shares his bizarre affinity for eating onions as if they are apples, one of the rare jokes that even the brilliant Lauren Lapkus can’t make funny.
Holmes and Watson was written and directed by Etan Cohen whose best work was the slam dunk Hollywood satire Tropic Thunder. Cohen has worked with Ferrell before, he scripted Ferrell’s unfunny rich guy goes to prison ‘comedy’ Get Hard. Cohen’s approach appears to be a chaotic mix of improv and the most simplistic of plotting. It’s not hard to determine where Ferrell and Reilly appear to be riffing to find jokes in Holmes and Watson and that likely explains how deathly much of the film’s apparent improv is.
The bit I mentioned earlier about hats goes on for several endless minutes and leads immediatly into an over-extended physical gags about mosquitos, a deadly virus and killer bees. That sequence, the hats and the physical comedy, is all going on amidst another bit about Holmes perhaps being so late to the fake Moriarty’s court hearing that he may let the man loose by not showing up. The punchline is supposed to be that the man is an imposter and thus should be set loose anyway but the clumsiness of this sequence, along with the series of masturbation riffs in the scene, stomps all over that punchline.
Stomping jokes into the ground is the one thing that Holmes and Watson does well. Ferrell and Reilly pound every joke in the movie into the ground with their very physical style of humor. A joke can’t be allowed to land without either shouting or some overstuffed, unnecessary bit of physical business. Don’t even ask me about the musical sequence in Homes and Watson, the homoerotic undertones are a black hole of juvenilia.
Holmes and Watson is among the worst movies of 2018. Aside from a couple moments from Lauren Lapkus late in the movie, there are zero laughs to be had from this supposed comedy. The film has no rhythm, it has no pace, it has no style. It’s a series of gags clattering into one another at a pace at which the joke cannot be discerned. It’s like watching Michael Bay try to direct comedy, everything is childish chaos edited inside of a blender.