Great ideas tend to move in cycles, at least in the film world. In the beginning there’s a shiny new spark of a concept, catching our imaginations. Then by the time it’s gone mainstream, it gets iterated to absurdity through a steady stream of sequels and ripoffs, until it hits the point where the mechanics of the idea are so well-known we get meta-commentaries on it. And then, like a death knell, there’s the slapstick parody version. Sometimes the cycle takes decades: for the teenage slasher flick, we had Halloween and Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street long before Wes Craven gave us his own meta-take with Scream. And then Scary Movie proved there was nothing new left for us to learn other than how to laugh at it all.
Of course, parodies aren’t bad things, necessarily — they’re simply a sign that a successful genre has just about run its course for the moment. And even if they are a sign of ending, it doesn’t mean that genre won’t spin up again in a new cycle (see: Zombie films, which — appropriately— never really die). If anything, parodies are a badge of honor. Bela Lugosi was able to bookend his own time as Dracula by donning his cape once again in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But while having a parody is a sign that the concept has hit its zenith… it doesn’t mean the parody itself is going to be as good as its inspiration.
Which, uh, brings me to the latest Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly joint, Holmes & Watson. Adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective are hardly a new thing — in film, the character has graced our screens since at least 1900. But no matter how prolific Sherlock has always been in entertainment, it’s pretty obvious the character has seen an uptick lately — thanks to numerous television shows, video games, and Guy Ritchie action movies. So is this new Talladega Nights: Detective Edition going to be just another addition to the cycle, or is it proof that the Sherlock fad is winding down for the time being?
If the reviews (and 4% Tomatometer rating) are any indication… maybe it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s just an exceedingly dumb movie about a very smart man. Or maybe it doesn’t count as a parody at all, since it sounds like, despite a few well-executed gags, most of the jokes don’t land.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich gives it a C-, saying:
The trouble with “Holmes & Watson,” a witless Sherlock Holmes spoof that supplies fewer laughs in its entirety than “Step Brothers” does in its deleted scenes, is that the movie can never decide how dumb it wants to be. Or, more accurately, what kind of dumb it wants to be.
Variety’s Peter Debruge says:
As far as Ferrell and Reilly are concerned, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s unstumpable sleuth and the thankless sidekick who recorded his every exploit are not just a great crime-solving duo but one of the great bromances of English literature — and therefore a natural target for the two actors’ ongoing exploration of dysfunctional friendships. The trouble is, Sherlock Holmes exists so large in audiences’ minds already that the pair’s uninspired take feels neither definitive nor especially fresh — just an off-brand, garden-variety parody.
Los Angles Times’ Noel Murray says:
But while Ferrell and Reilly’s Daffy and Porky routine is good for a few chuckles, it’s likely to disappoint fans of the more sidesplitting “numbskull buddies” dynamic the duo perfected in their hits “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers.” Even the stars sometimes look befuddled about what they’re supposed to be doing, romping around Victorian London in a parody that never figures out what it’s mocking.
Vulture’s David Edelstein is somewhat more generous, offering that “No brain cells are harmed” by watching the film and saying:
One of the year’s most critically shellacked movies (the pros were forced to watch it in theaters on Christmas Day alongside the common hordes), Holmes & Watson begins as ineptly as any comedy I’ve seen, and then settles into an agreeably silly groove that had the common hordes around me yukking it up. When it’s bad it is, indeed, painful, but even third-rate Will Ferrell + John C. Reilly is more inspired than the noisy contraptions on either side of it in the multiplex.
But it’s New York Times critic Ben Kenigsberg who almost enticed me into checking this one out in theaters with this assessment:
More laughs are all that would have been necessary to prevent the stagnation of “Holmes & Watson”; as the movie stands, smuggling in booze to dispel the sense of dull routine could only help.
Um, I LOVE smuggling booze into the theater! But I usually do that because I’m already stoked about the movie, not because it’s the only way I might eke out some enjoyment.
Will you be checking out Holmes & Watson this holiday? Or if you already have — are the critics right?
Header Image Source: Columbia Pictures