There's a moment during the stunningly abysmal Holmes & Watson where you're looking up at the screen and you're watching the immensely talented duo of John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan and, at least if you're an avid moviegoer, you realize that these actors, awful beyond awful in this film, have both turned in award-worthy, and I'd dare say Oscar worthy, performances this very same year in the extraordinary Stan & Ollie.
The realization hits you hard. I mean seriously hard. It's difficult to describe just how wide this chasm is, but the closest thing I can find to describe it is the year that Eddie Murphy garnered serious Oscar buzz for Dreamgirls but just as nominations were being submitted Murphy's similarly devastatingly awful Norbit was released in theaters.
Not surprisingly, all the Oscar buzz in the world couldn't save Murphy's reputation and despite a tremendous Dreamgirls performance it's safe to say that Norbit came close to killing Murphy's career.
While Reilly is likely safe from a similar fate here, especially given he's actually given award-worthy performances this year in both Stan & Ollie and The Sisters Brothers, a film so incredibly awful as Holmes & Watson may very well sound the off-key death chimes on Ferrell's already waning career as audiences tire of his man-child shtick and his films exude the rotted stench of cinematic desperation.
And, let me just say, this is coming from someone who considers himself a Will Ferrell fan.
There's simply no excuse whatsoever for a film as awful as Holmes & Watson. Holmes & Watson is so awful that people in third world countries who've never seen a film before would watch the film and decide they've not been missing anything.
Holmes & Watson is simply lazy. It's lazy writing. It's lazy filmmaking. It's haphazard, self-indulgent, and so utterly devoid of anything resembling humor that it's inexcusable that it was even released in theaters. This is the kind of film that indie filmmakers look at shrug their shoulders thinking "How can I not catch a break?"
And they have a point.
The film has a brilliant supporting cast, most of whom have this deer-in-the-headlights look like "Even for a paycheck film, this is really gonna' suck."
The likes of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and Hugh Laurie and the nearly always impeccable Rebecca Hall are completely and utterly wasted here, far from impeccable and even farther from even watchable.
It's never a good sign when even a comedy film's trailer doesn't contain a single laugh, but even entering the theater with low expectations somehow Holmes & Watson is even worse. Writer/director Etan Cohen (Get Hard) seems to have constructed a feature-length film out of a college-level first draft that takes familiar Sherlock Holmes material and finds nothing creative or unique or entertaining to do with it. While both Ferrell and Reilly can unquestionably be funny, whether you like their previous efforts Talladega Nights and Step Brothers or not, what unfolds here feels like the first run-through of a bad SNL skit that doesn't deserve a second run-through. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Rebecca Hall is about the only shining spot here as an American doctor still devoted to 19th century medicine. Hall isn't so much funny here, just funnier than everyone else.
That's truly not saying much.
The film, wisely not screened for critics, centers around the duo of Holmes & Watson attempting to stop one Professior Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) from his dastardly plot to knock off Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris, Call the Midwife). Watson crushes on Hall's Dr. Grace Hart, while Holmes is equally smitten with by a young lass supposedly raised by feral cats, Millie (Lauren Lapkus).
Holmes & Watson is stretched to allow for ample rambling of direct Doyle dialogue at times, an approach that makes unfunny material even less funny and fails miserably to capture any of the wonder and intrigue and fun of the source material.
While Hall is relatively unscathed here, most of the others are not including Hugh Laurie's uniquely awful take on Mycroft Holmes and mercifully brief appearances by Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, and Kelly Macdonald.
It's understandable, at least to a degree, that once a film starts filming it's difficult if not impossible to get the ship righted if everything starts going off course. However, it's difficult to fathom that anyone here worked beyond day one without questioning "WTF are we doing here?"
Seriously, as a critic who has regularly and at times enthusiastically praised even the worst of both Sandler and Ferrell, I could feel my already modest IQ dropping the longer the film dragged on.
Easily, and without question, one of the worst films of 2018, Holmes & Watson is a devastating alarm for Ferrell that he needs to either pull back on the filmmaking schedule or find some new collaborators because what worked when he first started simply isn't working anymore and there's simply no way that studios are going to keep shelling out the big bucks for Razzie worthy cinema.
The only mystery that really needs to be solved here is "How did this film even get made?"
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic