A film review by Craig J. Koban January 12, 2019



2018, PG-13, 83 mins.


Will Ferrell as Sherlock Holmes  /  John C. Reilly as Dr. John Watson  /  Rebecca Hall as Dr. Grace Hart  /  Ralph Fiennes as Prof. James Moriarty  /  Hugh Laurie as Mycroft Holmes  /  Kelly MacDonald as Mrs. Hudson  /  Rob Brydon as Inspector Lestrade  /  Lauren Lapkus as Millie  /  Lilly Aspell as Urchin  /  Noah Jupe as Doxy

Written and directed by Etan Cohen




On a superficial level, HOLMES & WATSON is a movie.  

No, seriously...it is. 

It contains a feature length running time, it has a massive studio and fairly sizeable budget behind it, it stars two bankable and proven comedic actors, and it has been aggressively marketed to the eager moviegoing masses.   

But HOLMES & WATSON is barely a movie.  It most assuredly isn't a comedy either, seeing as it contains virtually no laughs.  And it's not - despite a very specific title - a new Sherlock Holmes mystery worth investing in.  

No, HOLMES & WATSON is more like a not ready for prime time SNL skit with a would-be hilarious premise (get two well known and established funnymen and have them lampoon the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created universe) that, despite its mercifully brief running time, feels like it goes on and on...and on...sucking the literally life right out of you in the process.  On paper, HOLMES & WATSON should have been a comedic home run - get the affably bumbling man-child chemistry of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (so side splittingly funny together in films like TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY) to play the world's most famous detective and doctor sidekick respectively - but the resulting effort is a shocking comedic dead zone that's utterly bereft of merriment and wit.  You know you're in serious trouble when the last Robert Downey Jr. SHERLOCK HOLMES film contained more laughs than a Will Ferrell driven iteration of the same character, and that former film wasn't intended as a comedy. 



The screenplay provides the barest of bare boned plots, which is essentially just a lazily assembled closeline for the film's infantile attempts at genre satire.  As we learn in a quick prologue, young Sherlock Holmes was a bullied child that learned to control his emotions (he develops the super human ability to make tears retract back into his eye sockets, in one of the film's very few mildly amusing sight gags).  But, as he matured into adulthood (played by Ferrell), he has learned to not let his emotions get the better of him and has developed his intelligence and keen detective reasoning into becoming a legendary sleuth.  He frequently solves crimes with his right hand man and BFF, Dr. John Watson (Reilly), who's so naively supportive of Holmes than he comes off as a modern fanboy.  Their lives change when they discover a dead body that's been baked into a massive cake during Queen Victoria's birthday party.  Believing that their arch nemesis Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes...yes...that one) is the perpetrator, Holmes and Watson spring into the offensive and are aided by an American doctor, Hart (Rebecca Hall), which complicates things seeing as the deeply sexist duo can't bring themselves to believe that a woman could be a doctor.   

Aside from the aforementioned tear retraction gag, there were only a small number of moments in HOLMES & WATSON that made me chuckle, like a sequence featuring Holmes mentally slowing down time to mathematically gage his attackers precise moves, which he later uses to prevent himself from peeing all over his pants after one night of heavy binge drinking.  There's also a somewhat silly running joke in the story that has Watson lustfully pining after the Queen, despite her withered and aging appearance.  I also giggled a bit when Holmes and Watson enter a gym on the search for clues, which has a spin class in the background featuring those late 19th Century oversized bicycles.  That's kinda funny.  Alas, genuine and heartfelt laughs are in shockingly low supply throughout HOLMES & WATSON, and witnessing Ferrell and Reilly struggle with making this material work is borderline embarrassing throughout. 

The desperation of this film is sort of mid-blowing.  HOLMES & WATSON is arguably the only Sherlock Holmes film in history to have scenes containing the following: 

- A young Holmes accidentally kissing a donkey's anus. 

- Holmes and Watson violently trying to kill a mosquito with a cricket bat. 

- Watson being covered in horse poop. 

- Holmes binge eating a raw onion whole. 

- A hyper eroticized autopsy scene that spoofs an infamous sex scene in GHOST. 

- Holmes projectile vomiting multiple times at the very thought of said autopsy. 

- A woman that was raised by feral cats. 

- A TITANIC cameo. 

- A Billy Zane cameo...playing his character from TITANIC. 

Now, going back to that fifth point above.  This is 2019.  GHOST came out in 1990.  That's nearly thirty years ago.  How intellectually bankrupt is your comedy when you're forced to drum up a moment that's inspired by a scene from a three decade old film, complete with the usage of "Unchained Melody"?  Equally eye rolling is Holmes' penchant for making modern day proclamations, like "FAKE NEWS!" after he reads a newspaper, or a later instance of him and Watson taking a selfie with one of those bulky cameras of the era?  Just what is director Etan Cohen (who was responsible for co-writing the insanely hilarious TROPIC THUNDER) wanting to do with this character and universe?  HOLMES & WATSON can't decide if it's trying to be an AIRPLANE-like spoof of the material or just a gross out gagged farce.  And the film can't decide what it's doing with the Holmes character himself?  Is Ferrell's version of him really a man with a razor sharp focus and cunning intelligence that is the world's greatest detective that also happens to be a Ferrell-ian nincompoop that makes silly decisions or is he just a complete blithering moron whose reputation as the world's greatest detective is horribly misrepresented?  This film and Ferrell's performance doesn't have the slightest clue. 

I'm not sure if I hated HOLMES & WATSON or rather just felt absolute pity for all involved in front of and behind the camera.  Ferrell and Reilly can be magic together on screen (as previously proven), but Ferrell has not been on a comedic role lately with forgettable stinkers like THE HOUSE, DADDY'S HOME 2, and GET HARD, which are collectively making me think whether he's lost his past touch.  But then how do you explain - outside of big pay checks - the inclusion of Oscar nominated and worthy talent like Ralph Fiennes and Rebecca Hall, the latter who has never so shamefully slummed her way in a film as much as she does with her throwaway character here.  As an added kick to the baby makers, the film even throws in Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in nothing roles that never generate any comic momentum, and considering how side-splittingly hysterical they've been in their THE TRIP trilogy, it's enough to make you want to throw something at the screen in disgust while watching them be squandered here. 

HOLMES & WATSON is an egregious failure on all conceivable conceptual levels.  It comes off as something a sick minded prepubescent would write, but that descriptor would be an insult to many thoughtful and smart prepubescent writers out there.  It's telling that the film's ultimate idea of knee slapping comedy is a donkey's rear end being smooched and a man being dosed with horse excrement.  

You'll feel like an ass for watching this horse shit.   

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