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Catching Up On 2018: Josh Reviews Holmes & Watson

In my “Catching up on 2018” posts, I review films that I saw in my busy end-of-the-year rush to catch up with as many movies from 2018 that I’d missed.

Good lord!  What is the behind-the-scenes story that explains this dud?

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are both comedic geniuses, and, prior to this misfire, their partnership has wielded comedic gold (see: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Step Brothers; Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues).  While I think there have been a few too many reinterpretations of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in recent years (see: the two Robert Downey Jr. films Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; the acclaimed BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; the Elementary TV series with Lucy Liu; the wonderful old-Sherlock Holmes movie Mr. Holmes, starring Sir Ian McKellan… shall I go on?), the idea of Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Reilly taking on these two iconic characters seemed like an idea with some merit.

So what happened?

I found Holmes & Watson to be mostly a bore.  There are a few funny moments (I thought the idea of an autopsy scene version of the infamous Ghost pottery-wheel love scene was inspired), but for the most part the movie felt like it was struggling to find its way.

The central characters were surprisingly muddled.  Will Ferrell’s Sherlock Holmes seems to be both a buffoon and a genius at the same time, and the combination doesn’t work smoothly.  Mr. Reilly’s Watson, meanwhile, seems just as stupid, if not more so, that Mr. Ferrell’s Holmes… except for the times when he seems to occasionally be aware of Holmes’ buffoonery.  I’m all for an anything-for-a-joke approach, but 1) I think these sorts of movies only work if the jokes are hung around strong characters who you understand and, if not care about, are at least clearly-defined and interesting enough to want to follow for two hours, and 2) if you’re going to focus on jokes at the expense of character development, those jokes had damn well better be funny!

There are all sorts of weird off-notes in the film, which to me show the film’s struggles to find a tone that works.  The movie begins with a sad flashback to Sherlock Holmes’ lonely childhood, which is distinctly unfunny.  It feels like the type of opening to a character-based film that wants to create some pathos around its characters, and to therefore solicit the audience’s empathy.  But after this prologue, the film never develops the Holmes character beyond a one-note joke, so that opening feels like it came from a different movie.

I was equally off-put by the end of the film, in which the film sends its two female main characters (Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Grace Hart and Lauren Lapkus’ Millie) off to their deaths on the Titanic as an off-the-cuff joke.  It’s weird.  Were we NOT supposed to care about Dr. Hart and her relationship with Holmes??

The women are the film’s few bright spots.  I love Rebecca Hall, and I was happy to see her as the female lead in the film.  She seems up for all of the film’s zaniness.  I wish the movie gave her more to actually do.  Lauren Lapkus’ bizarre, mostly-silent bird-woman Millie might be the film’s weirdest character, but I thought she was so funny whenever she was on screen.  She was the funniest aspect of the entire film, in my opinion!!  Then there was Kelly Macdonald’s Rose Hudson.  As with Rebecca Hall, I love Ms. Macdonald — I think she’s a fantastic actress and I love seeing her wherever she pops up.  I wish the film had given her more to do.  (I loved her character’s turn in the third act.  I just wish we’d gotten to know this character a lot better.  As with so much of the rest of the film, there is the potential here for a very interesting character, but the film doesn’t manage to make it work.)

I love the idea of casting Ralph Fiennes as the villain Moriarty.  That’s inspired!  But Mr. Fiennes is totally wasted.  He’s barely in the movie!!

Clocking in at only eighty-something minutes, I wonder, was a lot of this movie left on the cutting room floor?  (How bad was the stuff that DIDN’T make it into the finished movie??)

Does the fault lie with writer/director Ethan Cohen?  Mr. Cohen was one of the co-writers of Tropic Thunder (along with Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux), a brilliant film.  But his other credits aren’t that strong.  (He wrote the script for Men in Black 3, a film which had potential but wasn’t nearly as funny as it should have been.  He also co-wrote and directed Get Hard, the abysmal-looking Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart movie from 2015, which I most definitely did not see.)

There’s probably blame enough to go around.  Skip this one, folks.  (Judging by the film’s poor reception at the box office, it looks like most of you did.)

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