Since it will have been in theaters for nearly a week by the time this review is published, I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not spoiling anything when I disclose the jaw-dropping revelation that Holmes and Watson is not a very good movie. What may prove more surprising for some readers is the fact that, despite its current 9 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and vitriolic pans from scores of other critics, it’s nowhere near as bad as I’d been lead to believe. Hey, at least it’s short.
While I haven’t read any of those reviews at present, I find it difficult to fathom what all the fuss is about — yes, Holmes and Watson is dumb, but is it really any dumber than, say, Aquaman? If “not the worst thing I’ve seen this month” sounds like high praise to you — and in my case, it often is — then writer/director Etan Cohen’s farcical reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic characters might just be up your alley. It’s the lowest of lowbrow comedy wrapped in a silk smoking jacket, a thoroughly stupid movie based on some very smart source material. But does that make it inherently bad? Well, kinda…
Cohen’s career has some definite highlights, but equally definite is its precipitous decline. While his early-career work writing for Mike Judge on TV cult classics Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill primed him for a scripting assist on one of my favorite comedies of the early 21st century, Idiocracy, the trajectory of his output has been decisively downward ever since. Sure, Tropic Thunder was OK, but Get Hard? That was unforgivable. Your capacity for engaging with the dubious humor of Holmes and Watson might depend largely on your affinity for autopsy antics and monarch-mangling physical comedy, but if Cohen’s brand of adolescent inanity has served you well in the past, you’ll probably find yourself onboard here as well.
Prurient sensibilities aside, the most notable aspect of Holmes and Watson would have to be its excessively talented ensemble cast — all of whom are far too good for this movie. Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Hugh Laurie all have their parts to play, but those parts fall uniformly short of their respective performers’ capabilities. It’s the relationship between Will Farrell’s Holmes and John C. Reilly’s Watson that’s meant to be foregrounded here, after all, and when that chemistry works, the movie very nearly does as well. Which is to say, about 20 percent of the time.
Look, you probably already know whether or not you can sit through Holmes and Watson. There’s a reason that Netflix refused to buy the rights from Sony after a series of disastrous test screenings — which is something of a shame, considering this would’ve been perfect streaming fodder for drunks and stoners stumbling home after some late-night New Year’s revels. Yes, it would be all too easy to dismiss Cohen’s film as a series of comedic missteps and leave it at that — but how does anybody expect me to believe this is worse than Fifty Shades Freed? That’s a mystery even Sherlock couldn’t solve.