This already infamous Will Ferrell comedy from Etan ‘Not Ethan Coen” Cohen has a reputation for being awful and, despite some valiant cameo appearances, it really is.
Reportedly setting a record for walk-outs at some American cinemas and passed on by Netflix, this reimagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary characters not as period-drama James-Bond-types (like Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes) or socially impossible contemporary figures (as in TV’s Sherlock) but as a pair of hopeless, showboating twits.
We begin with Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) unintentionally saving the PTSD-suffering Dr. John Watson (John C. Reilly) from killing himself by way of a jumbo vegetable, reprising the Ferrell-Reilly double act of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights. They become fast friends and celebrity crime-solvers, even though Watson is usually the one who suffers the most by way of deadly bees, poison trials, smeared horse manure and the like. No wonder he longs to be credited as ‘Co-Detective’.
When Holmes somehow manages to let no less than Professor Moriarty (a barely present Ralph Fiennes) slip through his fingers in the most ridiculous fashion, the pair start tracking him down once more at the request of an imperilled Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris), who doesn’t seem to realise what a nitwit Holmes truly is. Inspector Lestrade (Rob Brydon, who deserves better) is fully aware, however, and mostly stands around looking as exasperated as the audience.
The ramshackle plot allows the titular pair to fall in love, though not with each other, as the good doc is is smitten by American doctor Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) while Sherlock falls for her seriously weird friend Millie (Lauren Lapkus). This allows for a sequence where Watson and Hart conduct a sensual autopsy to the tune of Unchained Melody in a parody of Ghost, which is almost funny, but the other deliberate anachronisms are less so. Watch out for the late-19th-Century selfie, the plot trick involving the Titanic and, of course, a string of Trump gags, even if his name is mercifully not mentioned.
But what of the guest stars, all of whom are considerably more amusing than Will and John? Steve Coogan turns up as a one-armed tattooist (he and Reilly were working on Stan & Ollie around the time of filming) and a fearsomely mutton-chopped Hugh Laurie briefly appears as Holmes’ mysterious brother Mycroft in what must be an in-joke due to the fact that Stephen Fry was Mycroft to Robert Downey Jr. And yes, Coogan and Laurie are both much more fun than the top-billed hams.
As for the punters who have been storming out of screenings and crucifying the film online for being a painful mess, the obvious response remains: no shit Sherlock.
Holmes & Watson (M) is in cinemas from December 26