Laugh with "Holmes & Watson"

Dec 25, 2018

Even I laughed!

Holmes & Watson

Grade: B

Director:  Etan Cohen (Get Hard)

Screenplay: Cohen (Tropic Thunder)

Cast: Will Ferrell (Anchorman), John C. (Reilly Sisters Brothers)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 29 min

By: John DeSando

Needing a laugh with the high drama of the holidays, this notoriously difficult critic laughed more than once, many times in fact, with Holmes & Watson. In fact, the absurd humor, crafted by Etan Cohen and  interpreted by Will Ferrell (Holmes) and John C. Reilly (Watson), made me think of Mel Brooks. That’s a  compliment.

Sherlock Holmes has been imitated scores of times and lampooned almost as many, but this iteration, set in the second half of the 19th century, combines the best tropes (intellectualism, obsession, addiction, to name a few of Holmes’s extremes, not even to mention his lack of affect) with satire of said hang-ups and the good old USA (Holmes wears a cap that says, “Make England Great Again”).

In other words, it does a commendable job of evoking laughs out of the Laurel and Hardy playbook (see Stan and Ollie coming soon, also starring Reilly) while it takes a wider look at sexism and chauvinism, finding humor in men who can’t abide a female doctor or who moon over a homely queen (Victoria, that is):

Dr. Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall): Shall we begin the autopsy?

Watson: A woman doctor?

Holmes: Impossible. Fortunately, we have a *real* doctor here.

Watson: Would you like some heroin?

When Watson and Grace perform the autopsy, their desire comes through laughingly at the expense of the cadaver as if they were revising the eating scenes in Tom Jones or Ghost. The riff on an outlandish possibility of America having a president like the one we have a century later is rich with political commentary yet soft as a kitten’s coat.

Those laughs keep coming, perhaps none wittier than the extended Titanic motif, obnoxious in its disregard for the lost 1500 lives or that the film is set in 1892 and the fated boat built in 1902.  Like the Producers’ Springtime for Hitler, it works when by all rights it shouldn’t.

Moriarty is present (Ralph Fiennes), still plaguing and sharpening Holmes, as well as a Mrs. Hudson (Kelly Macdonald) quite different from the stock housekeeper. The loss in the film is so little of him as to be marginalized. See Macdonald in Puzzle if you want an idea of the actress’s range.

With so many working parts, Holmes & Watson could be a blistering babble of bad humor. Instead, it’s almost what the doctor ordered for the hefty holidays.  A “real” doctor, that is.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at