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Review: 'Holmes & Watson' is on another level of awful

Giles Keyte, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Giles Keyte, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

If you weren’t already sick of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, the latest Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly outing will do the trick.

An alleged comedy, Holmes & Watson is light on laughs and heavy on nothing special, an hour and a half of bland one-liners, half-assed slapstick, and a handful of masturbation jokes a sixth-grade boy would find lowbrow. Fans of Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, prepare to be disappointed.

Holmes & Watson takes the Sherlock mythos at its most, well, elementary. Consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Ferrell) and his loyal companion, Dr. John Watson (Reilly), find themselves playing a game of wits with the Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes). But there’s a twist: Holmes and Watson are dumbasses.

Turning the Great Detective trope on its head could have offered home-run hilarity, but Holmes & Watson can’t decide what it wants to be. Reilly plays his version of Watson as a straight-up dope, which works pretty well given the state of medicine in Victorian England. But Ferrell’s Sherlock alternates between superhuman cleverness and bumbling idiocy with a randomness that undermines the movie.

Plot and characterization were obviously going to be secondary here, and all can be forgiven if a movie is funny enough. But Holmes & Watson just isn’t funny. With comedic heavyweights like Ferrell and Reilly, along with writer-director Etan Cohen (King of the Hill, Tropic Thunder), you’d think this movie would be a surefire laugh riot. And yet against all odds, Holmes & Watson is not only bad, but one of the worst and unfunniest movies of 2018.

The movie would have been a thousand times better had Cohen and company just leaned into a stupid version of Sherlock, rather than tweak the character to be somewhat of a goof who’s a genius under it all.

Imagine a Sherlock Holmes who is completely inept but stumbles around like Mr. Magoo into success after unexpected success. This would have allowed Ferrell to take his goofballery to its max, rather than conform the humor to fit a weak narrative. And it would have also allowed Fiennes and Rob Brydon (who plays Inspector Lestrade) better parts, acting out their frustrations with the fool who continues to make them look bad. Instead, both men are relegated to bit players, and Fiennes’ skill in particular is wasted.

Nobody goes into this kind of movie expecting Shakespeare, but Holmes & Watson is on another level of awful. Ferrell’s humor certainly isn’t for everybody, but even his most diehard fans will have trouble sitting through this one.

Holmes & Watson
Director: Etan Cohen
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes
Rated: PG-13
Theater: Now playing, area theaters