Holmes and Watson

HOLMES AND WATSON,  US, 2018. Starring Will Ferrell, John C.Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Lauren Lapkus, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Macdonald, Steve Coogan, Pam Ferris, Noah Jupe, Rob Brydon, Hugh Laurie. Directed by Etan Cohen. 90 minutes. Rated M (Crude humour and coarse language).

With a long, long history of Sherlock Holmes films, this successor is not absolutely (nor relatively) essential. And it is not as if Sherlock Holmes hasn’t been the subject of cinema humour before. Well, if not Sherlock himself, his fictional brother, Sigerson, the product of Gene Wilder’s imagination who starred in, wrote and directed, The Adventures of Sherlock Homes Smarter Brother, 1975! (Sherlock and Dr Watson, the reputable Douglas Wilmer and Thorley Walters, along with Moriarty and his assistant, the reputable Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear, balancing a cast led by Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman!).

Modesty is not a one of the main characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and his vanity is taken up here by Will Ferrell in the title role, sporting a very British accent, supported by John C.Reilly playing an enthusiastically ingenuous Dr Watson (initially intending to kill himself after returning from the wars in Afghanistan in 1881, misinterpreting Holmes’ signs that there were other ways to commit suicide by thinking that Holmes was actually encouraging him to live!

So, who is the intended audience for this spoof of Holmes and Watson, of Holmes’ methods of detection, of the pursuit of Moriarty, the ministrations of Mrs Hudson, the request by Queen Victoria to solve the case? How to tell! Conan Doyle purists, like Victoria, will not be amused – actually that’s not quite correct here, Victoria enters into the investigations (even when she is subjected to a number of unintended punches and battering) with quite some enthusiasm. So, not for purists.

For fans of Ferrell and Reilly and their longtime collaborator, Adam McKay, perhaps one of their more disappointing efforts. (And McKay has recently gone on to serious satire with The Big Short and his film about Dick Cheney, Vice.) There will be a little consolation with some amusing cameos, Steve Coogan suddenly appearing as a one-armed tattooist, Pam Ferris as Queen Victoria, Kelly Macdonald as not quite the image of Mrs Hudson as we have come to know, Hugh Laurie as Mycroft (communicating wordlessly with Sherlock in the silence required by the Diogenes Club. Ralph Fiennes is Moriarty and a final joke about Titanic with Billy Zane as himself.

Rob Brydon has a rather thankless role as a frustrated Inspector Lestrade but Rebecca Hall seems to be enjoying herself as a Boston doctor, able to make some points about women in the professions to a rather disbelieving Holmes. It was all written and directed by Etan Cohen, not to be confused with Ethan Coen of the Coen brothers. Etan Cohen wrote Men in Black 3, Tropic Thunder and his next announced project as Mandrake the Magician with Sasha Baron Cohen (so there!).

There are a whole lot of anachronisms, of course, and some consolation during an autopsy with the playing of Unchained Melody (which also had a key role in Bumblebee).

Advertising refers to the film as “a humorous take on…”. Most critics seem to use the word unfunny in their condemnations. Allowing for some near lowest common denominator humour (rather crutch-fixated), it could be called corny.

Sony.    Released  December 26th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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