Between Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly have established themselves as a comedic pairing to be reckoned with, brimming with innate comedy and an uncanny ability to deftly straddle the delicate line between silly and stupid. Holmes & Watson, by contrast, finds that line, does a prat-fall over it, stomps around for a while, and then pees itself.
So many actors have donned the metaphorical deerstalker cap of Sherlock Holmes in recent years—Jonny Lee Miller, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey, Jr.—one would imagine in order to take on the role again would require a unique and compelling approach character. Ferrell goes in the opposite direction. His version of the character can best be described as generic Will Ferrell character with a British accent. This Sherlock is either a genius or a Clouseau-level buffoon, depending on the scene. Watson (John C. Reilly) is only slightly more compelling, as an ever-loyal sycophant earning for true partnership.
“But Dana,” I’m sure you’re saying to your screen, “this movie is a comedy; it doesn’t matter what the characters are like. How are the jokes?” The answer is: bad! The gags (“oh no, Sherlock tried to smack a mosquito and hit Watson in the head, and then accidentally freed a hive of killer bees!”) have the sensibility of a movie made for children, which is then undermined by repetitive and unfunny jokes about onanism. So apparently, the target audience for this movie is someone who knows that masturbation was seen as the cause of numerous physical maladies in the Victorian era, and also thinks Will Ferrell peeing his pants is hilarious. That imaginary audience-goer will also probably be the type not to notice (or care) that the film’s climax involves boarding the Titanic to prevent an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, even though Queen Victoria died a decade before the Titanic set sail.
If you choose to watch this movie, you’ll be treated to an hour and a half of different versions of the same gag: what if [insert modern thing] somehow existed in Victorian times!? It’s the laziest possible punchline, if you can call it a punchline at all. Where is the joke, for example, in a random pedestrian addressing a newspaper and scoffing, “This is fake news!”? Or Sherlock Holmes trying on a fez that says MAKE ENGLAND GREAT AGAIN? Or Watson attempting a “self-photograph,” duck-face included, with an old-timey camera? A spin-class on penny-farthing bicycles is probably one of three or four moments that might be worth a chuckle, but that aside, it’s a cavalcade of obvious and heavy-handed references lacking either point of view or sense of humor. Even a random third-act musical number does absolutely nothing to instill the sense of self-aware whimsy for which they were presumably striving.
A brilliant supporting cast, which includes Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan, Ralph Fiennes, Lauren Lapkus, Rebecca Hall, and Kelly MacDonald, is utterly wasted on this lame and forgettable outing. The only real mystery is why they wanted to be a part of this project at all.