DVD Review: Holmes and Watson
In these heavily politicized times, when families and friendships are sundered by differing opinions, and there seems to be no widespread agreement anywhere, people from all walks of life and ideologies are concurring on one point: the movie Holmes and Watson is dreadful.
But why? What exactly about this parody of the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes it so awful? It is the intention of this review to explore what went wrong with this sadly misguided production, and to provide guidance and advice to minimize the chance of a comparable fiasco ever happening again.
Part of the reason for intense, visceral disgust from viewers is that they are fans of the original Sherlock Holmes stories and much better adaptations. There is a difference between well-crafted parody (no fan of Westerns or classic horror ought to find anything insulting to beloved films in Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein) and a sleazy, inept burlesque. Parodies of Sherlock Holmes can work even with critical flaws (The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother was carried by the charm and talents of its cast), but as presented in Holmes and Watson, beloved characters aren’t satirized, they’re smeared.
Had the movie titled itself Hums and Watzin, with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly playing a couple of opportunistic ruffians who decided to try to make it in the private detection business after the real Holmes’ supposed death, attempted to make a pound off of the real sleuth’s good name, and proved themselves horribly inept, that would have been different. It wouldn’t have been treating the icons shabbily, it would have been a case of original characters bumbling. That one minor change to the script would have blunted the sourness resulting from seeing two of one’s favorite characters being defecated upon (indeed, in one scene, quite literally).
A critical flaw in the writing is that the movie never makes up its mind as to whether or not Ferrell’s Holmes is a genius or an idiot. Indeed, Holmes’ I.Q. and investigative skills undulate from scene to scene. At one moment, he’s making brilliant deductions, in the next, he’s fumbling around like an overgrown child whose greatest accomplishment in school was putting the lid back on the jar of paste after eating the entire contents. Everything from the wildly mistaken accusations to the very un-Holmesian attraction to one of the female characters seems to be off-kilter. A scene where Holmes and Watson are incapable of telling whether someone’s alive or dead is particularly cringe-inducing. Ferrell has been able to craft a distinctive character on-screen several times before, but he’s only playing a character that seems remotely Holmesian for about twenty percent of the movie. The rest of the time, Ferrell’s just mugging and trying to extract laughs by acting crazy or pompous or both, and after about ten minutes of the movie, most viewers will be in no mood to view this kind of behavior as amusing. Witless stupidity isn’t funny.
Additionally, the humor level of the movie seems to act on the assumption that if the cast keeps acting in a sufficiently goofy manner for long enough, hilarity will ensue. Blatant anachronisms, ranging from a Hannah Montana quote to sexting through telegraph to a selfie stick with an old-time camera, are supposed to be comedy gold, but they aren’t even pyrite. There’s another running gag revolving around Holmes wearing silly hats. We all know how it’s going to end, and the hats we see in the meantime aren’t that funny, so there’s no payoff. One character’s relationships with a string of famous figures (many of whom didn’t resemble the way they’re depicted at the time the movie is set) just seems bizarre. This “gag” (multiple definitions of the word apply here) was given its own DVD special feature, but it’s never given any explanation or proper setup, so it winds up proving to be a dumb idea the movie couldn’t be bothered to commit to, or even edit out when it was apparent it was going nowhere.
Reilly “won” the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Watson, but he really didn’t deserve it. Yes, the material is a major disappointment and his portrayal of Watson will undoubtedly and deservedly grate against many purists, but Reilly goes all in with his performance. The role is an embarrassment, yet Reilly always gives it 100%. In one scene, where Watson is cruelly and undeservedly smeared with horse excrement, Reilly performs with such conviction, and commits so fully to the unfunny bit, that he has to be given credit. In my critical estimation, a performer deserves derision for a lackadaisical performance or for a charmless, hammy piece of overacting. But when an actor goes all out and truly gives the script his all (even when it’s far beneath him), like Reilly does, he deserves an honorary “A” for effort, even if the material doesn’t support his exertions, and the end result is a blemish on his résumé.
There are some promising bits, including some genuinely silly lines, all of which appear in the trailer. There’s a decent parody of a hallmark scene from the Robert Downey, Jr. movies, but it’s not used to full effect. I kind of liked the communication method between the Holmes brothers, but after so many failed jokes, anything remotely decent that came up later in the film was tarnished. Most of all, the Act III development of the deep friendship between the title characters could have been played up into something real and poignant, but the film doesn’t earn it.
In the end, the deep disappointment of the movie comes from knowing that the actors involved can and have done better. With a better plot, more focused characterization, and more inspired jokes and parodic shots at all of the recent incarnations of the Holmesian universe, there could have been so much more. As it stands, we are left with a mystery that might just baffle the true Sherlock Holmes: How did this movie get made?
Holmes and Watson
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment