Holmes & Watson, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s comedic take on the Sherlock Holmes characters, opened to universally terrible reviews this week. It’s seldom a good sign when a film’s reviews are held off until the last minute. The habit of keeping critical responses out of the media until fans have already bought their tickets isn’t necessarily a bad practice but nowadays it’s mostly associated with studios trying to hide the bad reviews for as long as possible. Unfortunately, that seems to have been the case with Holmes & Watson, the newest film from Etan Cohen (Get Hard). The movie opened on Christmas Day, although that decision on the part of Sony Pictures doesn’t seem to have helped its box office much. According to Deadline, the film opened in fourth place with $6.4 million (behind Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns and Bumblebee), and a CinemaScore of D+.
The film currently holds the illustrious honor of having a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The situation isn’t much better on Metacritic, where the film has a ranking of 21. This puts something of a damper on John C. Reilly's 2018, which was otherwise excellent thanks to a trio of critically acclaimed hits: The Sisters Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Stan & Ollie. The critical consensus focused heavily on the lack of strong writing, the tired parodies, the oddly dated homages to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies and the laziness of the execution. If nothing else, the film has acted as a reminder to many critics that finishing your Worst Of lists before the year is truly over means you’ll inevitably miss something big before the season is complete. We’ve compiled some of the worst reviews of Holmes & Watson.
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.
One might call it a failure on almost every level—that is, if the movie ever gave the impression that it was trying to succeed. Instead, it’s pervaded by an air of extreme laziness. It’s cheap and tacky—a bizarrely dated parody of Ritchie’s Holmes (complete with a soundalike score) poisoned with rib-elbowing topical references and puerile gags. It’s the Sherlock Holmes movie with the red “Make England Great Again” hat and the lactating Watson. It succeeds in only one respect. As a Christmas Day release that wasn’t screened in advance for critics, it managed to avoid our list of the worst films of 2018. It belongs at the top.
Ferrell and Reilly flounder in their titular roles, and when Steve Coogan makes a brief appearance, it only serves to remind you of the sublime work he and Reilly do in the upcoming Stan & Ollie. Kelly Macdonald gamely attempts to score laughs as an atypically young and saucy landlady Mrs. Hudson, while Rob Brydon (Coogan's foil in the Trip movies) barely makes an impression as the harried Inspector Lestrade. Despite being filmed entirely in England and at numerous historical locations, Holmes & Watson boasts such ersatz-looking visuals that it may as well been shot entirely on soundstages. The overall shoddiness is typical of this feeble sendup that doesn't even manage to be as funny as the recent Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. versions.
Judging by the conspicuous lack of fanfare awaiting “Step Brothers” co-stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s third feature pairing, the fact that critics weren’t invited, and the faint odor of horse manure emanating from the theater on Christmas morning, one doesn’t need to be a master detective to deduce that “Holmes & Watson” is a dud.
Writer-director Etan Coen throws in every last cliché about Victorian London that he can summon up. We get street kids with dirty faces who look as if they’ve escaped from Oliver Twist. There are scenes of beer drinking in East End pubs, of darkened alleyways and ruffian-filled streets which invoke memories of Jack the Ripper. Queen Victoria (a stony faced Pam Ferris) is shown looking very unamused when Dr Watson gets too touchy feely with her. Coen also includes plenty of anachronisms [...] His [Ferrell's] comic timing is still impeccable but that alone can’t come close to salvaging a film that has been put together in such an elementary way.
Holmes & Watson feels six years too late. Six years ago, a parody of the Sherlock Holmes films might have felt a bit more enjoyable, and capitalizing on the success of other Will Ferrell-starring comedies like Step Brothers and The Other Guys would’ve been shrewd. But the Guy Ritchie films have been rightfully supplanted by the sterling BBC revival starring Benedict Cumberbatch, so this iteration of Sherlock, parodic or not, is trapped in an earlier time. In 2018, this movie just feels hacky.
Holmes & Watson feels like an artefact from a parallel timeline where these two have been playing these characters on Saturday Night Live for the last five years or so. With a few good laughs, it's a decent sketch that has been extended rather than expanded from a very basic premise. Needless to say, if you see only one John C. Reilly movie with a joke about Kelly McDonald's accent and an original song by Alan Menken at the cinema this week, go and see Ralph Breaks The Internet again instead.
There are fleeting moments where Holmes & Watson feels like one of Ferrell's better absurd comedies, but for the most part it's a botched attempt to realize what sounds like an enjoyably goofy idea on paper (Sherlock Holmes by way of Step Brothers). It's also a film that either should've been released years ago or not at all, rather than being dumped in theaters well past its expiration date. Fans of Farrelly and Reilly's previous movies together may still find things to enjoy about this one, but even then it's probably best saved for a viewing at home down the road.