Mystery misfire a suprise

Ferrell and Reilly flop at the box office with ‘Holmes & Watson’

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Mystery misfire a suprise

John C. Reilly and Will Farrell star in the movie, “Holmes & Watson.”

John C. Reilly and Will Farrell star in the movie, “Holmes & Watson.”

John C. Reilly and Will Farrell star in the movie, “Holmes & Watson.”

John C. Reilly and Will Farrell star in the movie, “Holmes & Watson.”

Sean Bull, Broadcasting Manager

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I can gauge whether you’ll like “Holmes and Watson” by asking one simple question: How funny do you find Will Ferrell’s British accent? If his characterization of Sherlock Holmes can amuse you for 90 minutes straight, you’ll get exactly what was intended out of this film. On the other hand, if you find him distracting, the movie will be that much harder to get through, as the movie follows Holmes for most of its duration.

I myself landed somewhere in the middle. I started liking the accent, got irritated midway through, and came back around to not minding by the end. I’m not sure Ferrell’s characterization was even bad, or if it suffered from a more general Will Ferrell problem. The man is a good actor, but his face and voice are so distinctive that he seldom disappears into a role. The sooner you accept that as another part of the inherent silliness of “Holmes and Watson,” the better.

The rest of the casting suffers from no such handicaps. Ralph Fiennes has menacing stares down to a science, perfect for a Moriarty that doesn’t get much time to talk. As half of the titular duo, John C. Reilly excels. His character is so seamless, he could probably be a non-satirical Watson, if pressed. All the side characters were serviceable, and the flashback boy version of Sherlock was a surprisingly good fit. Weirdly, the resemblance between him and adult Ferrell only hit me when he started crying. I’m not sure what that says about me, or the actors, but it’s an observation that stuck out.

At some point, we have to ask: How is it that a movie about beloved characters, starring America’s favorite “Step Brothers,” has tanked critically and commercially?

I think it has to do, in part, with expectations You see, Sherlock Holmes is part of what I call the UK’s Big 3 Royalty-Free. Holmes, along with Robin Hood and King Arthur, is one of a few characters that everyone in the English-speaking world is familiar with, yet there’s no copyright law holding him down.

These three characters, and their respective worlds, come from stories so old that they’re free for anyone to use, without buying rights or paying royalties. Over the years, we’ve seen every conceivable version of these characters, including comedies.

In my opinion, we’ve already seen the ultimate comedic movie versions of two of these properties, with “Robin Hood Men in Tights,” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, is still waiting for its definitive comedic take.

“Holmes and Watson” never quite reaches the absurd heights of the “Holy Grail,” nor does it have the satirical sharpness of “Men in Tights,” but it tries its hand at both. On the satire side, if somehow, you’ve made it to 2019, and aren’t sick of Trump jokes, there are a surprising amount peppered throughout. So, there’s that, I guess.

Most of the jokes have aged much better. I have a soft spot for jabs at how terrible life really would have been in Victorian England, and some of the best physical gags come from the chronic abuse Watson takes in Sherlock’s quest for knowledge.

Still there are occasional dull spots, which is hard to ignore when Holmes and Watson’s leads are the same men that made “Talladega Nights” such a ballistically fun ride. Ultimately, this is because Adam McKay, director of the “Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Step Brothers,” is once again fishing for awards after The “Big Short” performed so well. With McKay absent, directing Vice, it’s up to sole writer-director Etan Cohen to fill his shoes. While Cohen shows promise (he directed 2015s hit “Get Hard,” starring Ferrell and Kevin Hart), he’s not quite there yet.
By the time this gets published, “Holmes and Watson” will have been released in theaters for a month. If you can still find a showing, don’t let the 8 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes scare you away.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly haven’t lost their touch, but their take on the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle isn’t the genre-shattering classic we hoped it could be. For now, it seems the recipe for a definitive comedic Sherlock is still a little bit of, well, a mystery.

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