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Friday, December 28, 2018

Holmes & Watson

The distinct smell of flop sweat permeates from the screen during Holmes & Watson, as actors who seem to know they're trapped in a bomb struggle to rise above.  Scene after desperate scene, they soldier on, performing through moments that the movie thinks is funny, but they know are not.  This is yet another movie where the studio knew the script was a stinker, and they hoped throwing some talent at it would save it. 

The movie is being advertised as a comedy, but it has too strong of a hollow, aimless tone to it to generate any laughs.  It places Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, and then pretty much hopes that they can recapture the chemistry they shared in the previous films they did together.  The thing is, those movies had life to them.  They had a pulse.  You can say what you want about Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, but those were made by people who actually wanted to make them.  Nobody wanted to make this.  Writer-director Etan Cohen (who previously worked with Ferrell on 2015's Get Hard) never has a clear comedic goal.  He's not really poking fun at the characters of Holmes and Watson, nor their relationship, and he is also not poking fun at any of the numerous stories and countless films about them.  So, the obvious question becomes, just what was he doing in making this?

The film's plot is without sense or purpose.  It kicks off with Holmes as a young boy at boarding school (played by Hector Bateman-Harden), and how he learned to kill his emotions and increase his logical thinking in order to get every other student at school except for him expelled.  That way, all the professors focused on him alone, and he could benefit from all their time and attention.  Flash forward to Ferrell as Holmes, who is already established as London's greatest detective, although he frequently plays him as a befuddled buffoon.  Instead of going to the courthouse where his arch nemesis Professor Moriarity (Ralph Fiennes, doing as little as possible, and basically showing up for the paycheck) awaits trial, Holmes is in his office trying to decide what kind of hat he should wear.  One of his options is a red hat that reads "Make England Great Again".  And no, this is not the last time the movie will reference Trump.

There's a plot to murder the Queen (Pam Ferris) afoot, and Holmes and Watson are tasked with the case.  But rather than build a compelling and funny mystery, the movie instead focuses on a lot of dated parody elements, including a lot of callbacks to movies from the 90s for some reason.  Dr. Watson performs an autopsy with the aid of the lovely Dr. Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall), and it turns into a spoof of the pottery scene from Ghost.  One of the suspects that Holmes and Watson track down is a one-armed tattoo artist (Steve Coogan), which I think might be a reference to the one-armed man from The Fugitive.  And the climax of the film is set on the Titanic, and who just happens to be there but Billy Zane.  And it's not Zane playing a character, he's playing himself.  And yes, he's only there because he was in the movie. 

If the movie references are dated and unfunny, then the actual jokes that Cohen gives us are even worse.  In an act of true desperation, he even throws in a full-on musical number late in the film.  It's not a funny song, mind you.  We're simply supposed to be laughing at the fact that the characters are suddenly singing.  They even got Broadway veteran Alan Menken to contribute to the song, and all I have to say is whatever they paid him to write it, it was too much.  Through it all, both Ferrell and Reilly mug for the camera, pretending that they're enjoying themselves.  But both of them look like they can hardly contain their doubts about the project.  Talented as both are, you can't throw a dud script at them, and expect them to make gold just by playing off each other.  There has to be something in the material for them to work with.

Holmes & Watson is the kind of desperately unfunny comedy that will likely be swept under the rug, and never spoken of by the stars or their fans ever again.  Everyone will go on to better projects.  The only ones who pay the price here is anyone who spent money to watch it.  Even at a cheaper matinee price, that's too big a cost to ask of anyone.

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