Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 1, 2019)
After the success of 2006’s Talladega Nights and 2008’s Step Brothers, it looked like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly would regularly work together in films. However, they took 10 years before they paired again for 2018’s Holmes & Watson.
Given how badly Holmes flopped, I won’t feel surprised if Ferrell and Reilly avoid each other for another decade. Lambasted by critics and ignored by audiences, the movie became a massive bomb.
Which it might have deserved – maybe. Set in the early 20th century, a corpse turns up at a party in Buckingham Palace.
Noted detective Sherlock Holmes (Ferrell) and his partner Dr. John Watson (Reilly) immediately take on the case. They deduce that long-time rival Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) perpetrated the crime, and if they don’t stop him, he’ll kill Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) in a few days.
When trailers for Holmes emerged, they received a brutal greeting from film fans, and I get that. The promos made the movie look witless as could be, so I understood the skepticism.
I kept the faith, though. Ferrell and Reilly worked so well together in Nights and Brothers, so I believed they’d deliver their magic a third time.
Nope. Holmes becomes a massive disappointment and waste of talent.
According to Wikipedia, the project originated in 2008, which means it predates 2009’s Robert Downey/Jude Law project Sherlock Holmes. That said, I assume changes occurred to reflect the Downey flick, as 2018 movie plays like a parody of the earlier flick, with gags that offer obvious references.
In 2018, the notion of a Downey spoof feels outdated, and Holmes can’t find ways to overcome this issue. We just don’t get enough comedic spark to let Holmes stand on its own and amuse.
The lack of real connection between Ferrell and Reilly especially disappoints. In their first two films, much of the enjoyment came from their basic onscreen chemistry, but they can’t recreate that dynamic here.
I suspect the material becomes the biggest issue. Holmes sticks Reilly and Ferrell with so many lame gags and situations that any form of comedic connection won’t do the trick and overcome the inherent flaws.
The movie’s jokes tend toward a mix of slapstick, gross-out bits and anachronisms. The film abounds with knowing mockery of century-old beliefs, especially in terms of medicine and science.
This means nearly endless comments about then-current ideas that now look ridiculous. I can take a little of this but the ream of dumb jokes in this vein gets old, especially because they seem more than a little smug.
On the same path, we find instantly dated Trump jokes. The shot of Holmes in a red fez emblazoned with “Make England Great Again” feels bad enough, but a later discussion of presidential politics that relates to Trump becomes out of place.
I bow to no one in my disdain for Trump, but these jokes seem self-congratulatory and pointless. The movie shoehorns in this lousy stab at commentary and it just inspires groans.
On the semi-positive side, Lauren Lapkus inspires a few minor laughs as Millicent, a mute woman allegedly raised by feral cats. The basic energy between Reilly and Ferrell also produces a couple of small chuckles, even if their chemistry here pales when compared to their work in earlier films.
These attributes can’t compensate for all the idiocy on display, though. When I saw Holmes theatrically, I didn’t think it was too bad, but on second viewing, I see that it’s almost entirely devoid of entertainment value.