Holmes and Watson (aka Holmes & Watson) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I recall being quite intrigued by the brief trailers for Holmes and Watson but there was a mystery afoot. Why did these ads arrive so late in December before its Christmas debut? And why was it debuting on Christmas Day? And why did the marketing seem so distant with everything besides the comedic talents of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly teaming for the first time in a long time? And why release the film so close to Reilly’s more superior film of Stan and Ollie?
It’s elementary, dear reader. Consider the studio at hand. We know of Sony as a company struggling to land a proper film, that when they have something extraordinary on their hands as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse they jump at the chance to patten the animation techniques, despite this not actually being a thing. We know of their comedies as being struggles, what with the executive meddling of the Ghostbusters reboot. And as someone who has weathered the current crop of comedies, improv is perhaps the most tricky of subgenres to master.
The players assembled appeared to be a calculative move. Both Ferrell and Reilly are no strangers to the improv comedy format, saving many loose concept comedies as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. You can see they haven’t lost most of that touch as they’ve been perfecting their duo bits over Funny or Die short videos. Ah, but there’s an aspect to this production that has been neglected. The director is none other than Etan Cohen, the very same director as Ferrell’s mediocre Kevin Hart buddy comedy, Get Hard, a forgettable comedy. This film is doomed to be just as much of a misfire but stick with me before it evaporates from your memory.
Cohen’s direction is all over the place in this farce. He has dressed up Ferrell and Reilly in period clothing and hopes they can turn in some interesting silly bits with what they’re given. But this concept requires a good director to know what works and what doesn’t. And Cohen seems to have been so pleased with the bit of trying to find so many descriptions of masturbation his laughter has clouded the flow of the film. Most frustrating is that Ferrell’s character has no direction. One moment he’s a semi-competent detective, the next he’s a blithering idiot who knows nothing of his line of work, believing he’s calculated enough to take a swing at a case of killer bees and not break it open. Spoiler: he breaks it open.
The plot is arbitrary. Someone is plotting to kill the Queen of England in a few days and it’s up to Holmes and Watson to crack the case. I shall omit the names of the supporting cast to protect their credibility for being so underused but take note of the Queen. Notice how her scenes seem strangely dubbed to the point that her lips do not match the words. One only half paying attention may not have noticed it, and I can’t blame you for being disinterested, but it’s a clear symptom of a troubled production. Indeed, there were problems.
Reshoots aplenty and sloppy editing are to blame, of course, but perhaps there wasn’t much thought going into this film’s very concept. And Sony was not unaware of these troubles. Further evidence reveals that testing for the picture proved to be so low that they tried to shove off the picture to Netflix, hoping the streaming service would buy it for a decent sum to recoup the losses. A smart move: Netflix had been known in 2018 to take The Cloverfield Paradox off of Paramount’s hands. But, to the studio’s shock, Netflix declined. Call it a busy schedule or higher standards but they weren’t interested. And so Sony shuffled the film in the 2018 schedule, pushing back from August to November before eventually arriving on the buried date of Christmas Day, hoping to surprise the audience with a comedy released on a day of dramas. Yet it only came in at #7 for the weekend that followed.
And that is the story of how Holmes and Watson came to be the most dismal comedy of 2018, not coherent enough to be fun to follow, not funny enough to overlook its flaws. Case closed.