Thursday 27 December 2018

Holmes And Watson (2018) - Movie Review confidence + extreme incompetence. This relatively simple formula is in the DNA of an awful lot of comedy, where the humour is generated from characters who think they are far smarter than they actually are. It’s a form of stylistic hubris that many comedians owe the bulk of their legacies to, including the fabled pairing of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. However, while this is an equation that has yielded much success in the past, it’s also potentially tricky in the same way that most intentionally dumb comedies are: There has to be a distinction being a film that knows how stupid it is, and a film that is just plain stupid. Because much like the characters that bank on this style, there are few things more laughable than people with disproportionate egos. Except, of course, when the filmmakers themselves seem to share that trait.

The joke at the centre of this willingly-anachronistic look at one of the greatest fictional geniuses of all time is one of postmodern scepticism; questioning just how smart this so-called genius really is. When the film isn’t actively trying to distract itself with overlong adlibbing, random musical numbers and some of the most awkward attempts at political humour I’ve seen in a while (Get it? They’re talking about Trump and the electoral college! Why be funny when you can just state the frickin’ obvious?!), it frequently brings up what the scientific method really looked like in Holmes’ time. When cocaine and opium were seen as legit medicine, when forensic science was in its infancy and our understanding of the world was… not up to par, let’s say.

It’s honestly a rather clever idea, showing how perceptions of intelligence shift over time and how, while some modern-day adaptations of the legendary detective have done well in bringing Sherlock to the modern day, that transition is kind of necessary for the character to make sense at all. It’s a solid idea and certainly gives this feature more of a reason to exist than I ever would have guessed just from the marketing.

Unfortunately, writer/director Etan Cohen knows how good of an idea he has. He’s too aware of it, to the point where the audience is being constantly winked at so that there is no ambiguity regarding the jokes. Sherlock Holmes’ iconic brand of smugness is usually offset by how he has the intellect to be worth the level of pride he has in his abilities. That effect does not translate to a production at large, as this film’s own brand of smugness can get quite insufferable. It’s a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker-level idea treated like a Seltzerberg production, where the inability to deliver the material with a straight face does a lot of damage to the potential entertainment value.

And yeah, some of the jokes actually land well, and the script at least knows enough about the characters to know what to make fun of, but the egregious amounts of patting-themselves-on-the-back here sucks all the fun out of it. If Etan Cohen treated the audience with enough respect to understand the jokes without needing to reiterate every little point, this could’ve been a genuinely fun romp and a solid deconstruction of the character. But as it stands, it makes Sherlock Gnomes look like the smarter film by comparison; at least that film wasn’t this annoyingly arrogant.

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