Monday, 31 December 2018

Review: Holmes & Watson

Holmes & Watson
Cert: 12A / 90 mins / Dir. Etan Cohen / Trailer

Ah, doctor! Do take a seat. Now, I suppose you're wondering why I called you here with such urgency. Well, it's the curious case of that Reilly chap. Yes, you know him, the moving-picture performer.

His latest cinematograph is causing quite the stir in the city so I've heard, and while many are claiming the work to be a calculated and prolonged insult to the memory of dear Sir A.C. Doyle, I suspect that's too obvious a ruse. No, what's troubling me more is what Reilly hopes to attain, or indeed contribute, by being party to the frittering of forty-two million new American dollars on such a blatant slander. Allow me to explain...

When I sat in my local amphitorium to witness Holmes & Watson, I did so in the company of only four other patrons, and less than a week after the presentation had made its West End debut. An hour into the programme, two of those left. Such is the fickle nature of comedy, one supposes.

Or perhaps not...


You see, the odd snort and chuckle that the film does have to offer invariably comes from Reilly himself. Although whether this is down to the writing or his recital of those lines is a fleeting puzzle throughout.

Not content with having a comedic baseline of shrieking and basic slapstick, what passes for a script is perpetually in a race with itself to find the lowest common denominator that a 12A certificate will allow in any given scene. Because why stop at hitting the housekeeper Mrs Hudson in the face with a cricket bat, when there's her recurring slut-shaming in the jovial repertoire as well?

Although for all the film's warped gender politics, cheap racial jokes seem low on the agenda (although probably only because the cast is almost entirely caucasian), and The Americas come in for just as much of a heavy-handed societal ribbing as Britain. Small mercies.


The sloppy ADR is all over the shop, apparently demonstrating that the filmmakers didn't have a script they were happy with during the actual filming process. And much like the heavy-handed historical references, the British accents from the transatlantic players here are atrocious of course. But if these are not an outright deliberate affectation, they're certainly still intended to be part of the overall joke. And this script needs all the help in can get, in that department.

All credit is due to cinematographer Oliver Wood, for using an increasingly inventive series of camera angles to crop out any trace of modern London in the iconic landmark location-shots, all the while having each and every sequence somehow look exactly like it was filmed in mid-2018. Quite remarkable.


While the stylised, slow-motion fight breakdowns certainly doff their hat duly in the direction of the underappreciated Guy Ritchie outings, they appear to be the the only actual Sherlock Holmes material that writer/director Etan Cohen*1 has consumed in researching his piece.

Indeed, there's the persistent feeling that with the grandiose Victorian setpieces, Cohen would very much like to channel a more broadly comic rendering of the works of Alan Moore. Albeit without having actually read any Alan Moore, so it seems.

Ultimately, this is Without A Clue for the Daddy's Home generation. In all honesty, the production does not put in enough effort to earn the true ire of audiences and critics, even if this laziness does not excuse the final, inevitable result.


We don't necessarily expect better of Reilly's accomplice William Ferrell at this stage in his career of course, and while the high calibre of the rest of the turnout is frankly baffling, audiences can rest assured that if this film had been made at any other time with any other roster, it would still have been every bit as substandard.

In fact, the general breadth of the cast-list suggests a number of theatrical favours being called in, the likes of which we haven't seen since the days of Burke & Hare. And oddly enough, Holmes & Watson makes a striking companion-piece to that similarly sprawling, cinematic folly. In fact, it often appears the powers-that-be may have employed two casting directors, in order to secure this number of accomplished actors who should know better*2.


But whereas the array of supporting players could argue their involvement with the project was minimal to the point where they'd have little idea of the general direction and aesthetic of the finished work, our man Reilly has no such thespic alibi. He knew what this was, knew what it was meant to be and damned well continued anyway.

The fact that our subject, representing 50% of the leading actors in this piece, can currently be heard elsewhere in the same cinema as the voice of the affable Wreck-It Ralph and is imminently due to take the reins with a touching turn as one of cinema's most iconic comedians, leads me to deduce that Jonningsworth Cuthbert Reilly is actually a pair of twins masquerading as one actor - desperate to milk both ends of the cinematic spectrum but willing to commit to neither.

Elementary, really. Much like Holmes & Watson's approach to comedy...

To what manner of picture is this similar?
Sadly, this represents a persistent trend with the latter-day oeuvre of Mr William Ferrell.

Is it worth the pretty penny of an auditorium?
Good heavens, no.

Should I seek out a zoetrope version for my chambers?
Were one to find this production on display in a machine on the promenade whereby a halfpence is inserted and the operator manually replays the story in faux-privacy, one would still have been overcharged. The only upside to this being of course that it can be easily stopped as soon as the grave error of judgement is realised.

Is this the magnum opus of its artistic contributors?
I think not.

Could we come to blows regarding this in a tavern?
Why certainly, if you were to sing the film's praises.

Does anyone imitate the Wilhelm cry in this?
There is one particular moment where a hearty brawl takes place at a dockside, and it sounds for all the world like Private Wilhelm makes an auditory cameo appearance in the background. Although given the subtlety of this blending and the corresponding lack thereof elsewhere in the film, I find this difficult to believe.

And what connection is there, pray, with The Star War?
Level 1: 'Sheesha Smoking Guest' is in this. Dude doesn't even have a name yet, Solo came out in May. What's the GFFA coming to?

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Spare a thought for the justly-celebrated writer/director Ethan Cohen, every time one of Etan's films is released and he has to spend the following two months explaining that no, that wasn't one of his. [ BACK ]

*2 The BAFTA award-winning Rebecca Hall, the EMMY award-winning Kelly Macdonald, the NTA-nominated Pam Ferris, the Golden Globe-winning Hugh Laurie, the BAFTA award-winning Steve Coogan, and RTS award-winning Rob Brydon.
Although let's leave Ralph Fiennes out of this, obviously. His lack of judgment is well documented... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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