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‘Holmes & Watson’ Makes its Leading Duo Look Clueless

by Thomas Mcnulty

“Holmes & Watson” is the newest buddy comedy from the dynamic duo of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. It is directed by Etan Cohen, who has previously only directed one film but has a long history of writing comedies, such as the television shows “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill” and movies like “Tropic Thunder.”

This wealth of experience, both in front of the camera and behind it, does little to enrich the film and instead only serves to make “Holmes & Watson” that much more disappointing. While I personally enjoyed many parts of the film, it all comes across as very lazy and wastes the talents of its two leads.

The last full collaboration between Ferrell and Reilly, Adam McKay’s “Stepbrothers,” was already a decade ago. As a huge fan of that movie I was very excited to see the pair return, especially to take on the roles of legendary duo Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Thankfully, Ferrell and Reilly still have great chemistry, and most of the film’s successful attempts at comedy come from the natural interactions between the two. They complement each other’s styles very well as each has his own brand of buffoonery that the other must play off of before the roles are reversed.

The setting of “Holmes & Watson” is also surprisingly well-done. I was impressed by the sets and period-appropriate costumes, which appeared to be pretty accurate to the time period. This goes a long way in making the movie seem legitimate, as other aspects come across as cheap.

Despite the quality of sets and costumes, for example, the attempt at period accuracy is broken by Ferrell and Reilly’s comically poor English accents. This is a comedy, so whether their accents are intentionally bad as an attempt at comedy is unclear, but to me it was distracting.

The most important aspect of any comedy film is the writing, of course, because that’s what makes a comedy funny. Unfortunately, most of the jokes in this movie are very lazy, fitting into one of two categories, which are both low-hanging fruit in the world of comedy. There are gross-out “toilet humor” jokes, such as when Watson breaks two bottles filled with Holmes’s urine.


John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell star as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Then there are jokes which focus on the time period of the film, such as attempting to take a selfie with the Queen of England using an old tripod camera. Both types of jokes are easy to write: You either write something gross or point out how different the late 1800s were from the modern day, and they are a waste of Ferrell and Reilly’s considerable talents.

Outside of the setting, the plot of “Holmes & Watson” is incredibly standard as far as comedies go. Holmes and Watson meet as children and immediately become best friends, which feels like a scene ripped straight out of “Stepbrothers,” except it isn’t funny. Watson feels unappreciated by the far more successful Holmes and their friendship falls apart. Then, by the film’s end, a sentimental lesson is learned and all parties involved gain a newfound appreciation for their relationship.

It’s a by-the-book, paint-by-number comedy plot that has been recycled by Sandler, Ben Stiller and Ferrell himself numerous times. Despite a unique setting and masterful pair of leads, the plot is incredibly mundane.

Overall, I did not dislike “Holmes & Watson” as much as other critics seemed to. There were some funny moments, one line in particular really struck a bullseye with me, and they are all thanks to Ferrell and Reilly’s chemistry.

However, as a follow-up to “Stepbrothers,” the film is incredibly disappointing. It reeks of laziness, troubled production and a lack of care.

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