AN ELEMENTARY INVESTIGATION
Flaccid Ferrell Foolishness
I've never seen a Will Ferrell movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. Many start out with a clever premise - which then gets beaten to death because the man simply doesn’t know when to stop pushing the envelope. Others quickly abandon the original premise in pursuit of others – none of which is ever fully developed. The latter takes trump (pun intended) in his latest endeavor, ‘Holmes & Watson.’
In many of his movies, Ferrell plays a pompous ass who believes he is smarter than everyone else in the room. That’s an apt description, not only of the political leader(s) that Ferrell makes fun of in this movie, but also of Holmes himself - as portrayed by a wide variety of actors throughout the years. Ferrell gets in his digs at many of them. There’s the Euclid geometry employed by Downey in a boxing match, the whiz-bang workings of Cumberbatch’s high-tech 21st-century mind, the condescension in Rathbone’s rapid wrap-ups, the cool detachment of Brett’s vacant stare, and more.
John C. Reilly, on the other hand, seems content in channeling Nigel Bruce in his ‘bumbling buffoon’ portrayal of Dr. Watson. Actually, that’s not quite true. Reilly’s Watson is NOT content in his role. He aspires, instead, to be recognized as an equal to Holmes - a ‘co-detective’ on this case, and throughout the Canon.
Spoiler alert: Sherlock’s failure to acknowledge his companion’s contributions arouses suspicions that Watson is, in fact, the villain in this case, out to sabotage and sully his partner’s reputation. The two appear to work out their differences in a song-and-dance routine late in the film, only to have Sherlock’s true feelings on the matter later revealed in the relatively puny plaque placed at the entrance to 221B Baker Street (one of the better sight gags in the film).
The development, or lack of it, in the relationship between the film’s two title characters is one of the more interesting themes here. Watson’s short-comings, and his frustration with them, are nowhere more evident than in a scene where the two visit Mycroft at the Diogenes Club. Who among us does NOT believe that the world’s two smartest men, who also happen to be brothers, would be able to share one another’s thoughts, without a single word passing between them? Funny!! But far too fleeting – which is true of so many notions in this film.
Beyond his brief encounter with Mycroft, Sherlock’s relationship with Lestrade is spot-on as well. Their diametrically-opposed theories about Moriarty had me thinking of Mark Twain’s ‘Double-Barreled Detective’ satire, where Sherlock’s deductions are all in error, leading to a totally wrong conclusion. Here, that tale is turned on its head: While Lestrade’s much more logical explanation misses its mark, Sherlock’s wild, hare-brained obsession with Moriarty proves to be fully warranted. (And, without giving too much away, the ‘link’ between Moriarty and Mrs. Hudson is a delicious twist!)
Twain’s ‘Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ is also mirrored (as in left being right, and vice-versa) in this film. Besides America’s loutish leadership, its citizenry also is stereotyped - by its obsession with guns and violence. And, of course, ONLY in America, NEVER in Victorian England, could a WOMAN become a “doctor” (in air-quotes, no less) - a shot at Lucy Liu’s Watson in Elementary? The only thing missing here is ‘that woman,’ Irene Adler. Maybe they’re saving her for the sequel? (Yet another idea on which Ferrell is likely to fail to follow through.)
There are many clever ideas in this movie. Unfortunately, none is given a chance to develop. Instead, the viewer is forced to slosh through buckets of vomit, vials of urine, handfuls of horse manure, scads of sexual innuendo, and an endless series of pratfalls and slapstick. In other words, exactly what one should expect from a Will Ferrell movie, eh? It just seems to me that Holmes and Watson, and their legions of fans, deserve better.
In summary: Victorian London is a labyrinth of dark, narrow side streets, where it’s easy to get lost in the fog. Will Ferrell needs a ‘lamp-lighter’ (in the form of a firm-handed director?) to show him the way. Otherwise, like the political leader he most loves to lampoon, Ferrell too often strays off script, getting himself into needless trouble, from which he can’t (or at least shouldn’t be able to) just walk away and move on to his next gig – or gag.