I hate to break it to you, but Holmes & Watson is not the worst movie of the year, not by a country mile. It’s not even the worst comedy of the year. Heck, it’s not even the worst Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly team up.
All of this is not to say that it’s good or that you should go see it; you shouldn’t. It’s bad. But it’s not bad from lack of trying.
Ferrell’s Holmes is an oafish arrogant nincompoop, while Reilly’s Watson is a loyal starry-eyed nincompoop. It’s a tale of two nincompoops.
It’s a bromance comedy but we know nothing about the bros and we aren’t given any reason as to why Watson cares so much for the conceited selfish Holmes. Not to mention, how Holmes has gotten so reputable is never explained considering he’s clearly little more than a loud mouth jerk.
To be fair, we know a little as why Watson adores Holmes. It seems as a child at private school Holmes was bullied. One day after being tricked into kissing a donkey’s butt, he decided to stamp down his emotions. Holmes then promptly proceeds to expose every crime by the bullies and have them expelled. By the end only Holmes and the janitor’s son, Watson, are left at the school.
Except why they stayed friends is never explained. Ferrell comedies are absurdist in nature and shouldn’t require explanation and normally don’t. Knowing why Holmes and Watson are such close comparaedes wouldn’t necessarily help but it wouldn’t hurt either.
Still, that doesn’t make Holmes & Watson so awful that I would walk out. After all, Ferrell and Reilly are giving it everything they have. It’s just none of the jokes land. I found myself intrigued by the idea of the joke but not the execution of it.
After throwing a surprise birthday party for Holmes with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, Watson calls for the cake. A giant frosted magnifying glass cake is wheeled out. Holmes takes a knife and slices into the cake only to have the knife stick. “Strawberry jam,” leaks out. Of course, we learn a dead body has been baked into the cake, along with a note by that rascal Professor James Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes).
The scene could have been funny but it falls flat because the scene never has anything else to it. Etan Cohen’s script and direction is the real crime. There’s an old saying, “Comedy is a wide shot and drama is a close up.” Obviously, it’s more a guideline than a rule, but it’s not helped by bad editing.
Cohen seems hellbent on butchering almost every scene by either holding too long or cutting too soon. Sometimes it’s the cut is off by a fraction, but it’s enough to kill the laugh. Following the surprise party, Holmes and Watson go to the morgue to examine the body. They meet Dr. Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and Millie (Lauren Lapkus). Dr. Hart is a renowned American doctor and Millie was raised by feral cats. Okay, I laughed at that; not going to lie.
Watson teams up with Dr. Hart to perform the autopsy. Cohen attempts mine dark humor but he hasn’t the stomach for it. Watson and Hart flirt while he puts on a phonograph of the Righteous Brothers. The two report their findings breathless and giggling as if they’d just had sex.
Even Holmes and Millie hit it off. I really liked the idea that Cohen at least understood his characters enough to know which character would go with whom. But my admiration stops there.
Cohen crams Holmes & Watson with sexist jokes about how sexist men were and are. Much like the loathsome Get Hard, which Cohen also wrote, he thinks making fun of the thing is enough. But Hall and Lapkus have zero to do except act as love interests for the bumbling duo.
The jokes miss because while they lacerate sexism they don’t actually do anything themselves to address their own. Hall is a talented actress but she has less to do than the corpse found in the cake.
None of the women in the story are viewed or valued by anything more than their bodies. Miss Hudson has a running gag about her grandiose sexual appetite but it’s meant to belittle her.
Even the Queen (Pam Ferris) is reduced to being a ravaging beauty. The joke being she’s old so it’s weird for two slightly younger men to find her attractive. I will concede that for once the twenty year age gap isn’t a cause for our skin crawling.
Lapkus, thankfully is given more to do. To be frank, the biggest laughs come from her demented antics of affection. One moment had me cackling during the now almost required Ferrell musical number.
Cohen’s script has a plot but no real purpose. It’s not a satire of the Holmesian archetype. It actually tries to be a Holmes mystery. Even the put upon Miss Hudson (Kelly Macdonald) shows up.
But the script can never make up its mind. At times anachronistic, such as the phonograph of The Righteous Brothers, while also poking fun at the things way were. Such as when Dr. Hart and Watson lay out their hack saws and drills and delight in the advancement of modern medicine.
Despite all of this by the end I found myself giggling consistently. I don’t know—maybe Holmes & Watson just wore me down. Or maybe I gave myself over to the movie instead of fighting it.
Ferrell and Reilly are funny and have a great chemistry together. Times such as the duo going undercover, getting drunk, and sending a drunken booty call telegram were juvinile but funny nonetheless. The musical number is well done and Lapkus has a moment that while not original never fails to make me laugh.
Holmes & Watson is a bad movie and a bad comedy. But it has its moments. My favorite involving a cameo at the end which had me cackling. I wish I could say more, but like the movie, there’s really not much to talk about.