The makers of Holmes & Watson must have thought they were onto an elementary idea indeed: zany-brained comedy duo Will Ferrell and John C Reilly, fronting a film lampooning fiction’s most legendary detectives. In fact, they landed themselves with a three-pipe problem they’ve been unable to solve. Namely, Sherlock Holmes has to be a genius (that's kind of his whole deal), but clever is rarely funny (hence the miniscule IQs of Ferrell and Reilly’s characters in Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby). 1988 Conan Doyle send-up Without A Clue cracked it by making Watson the brainbox of the pair; here, however, both of them are cretins, making their renown throughout the realm, and the fact they’ve managed to untangle countless previous mysteries, utterly baffling. With no internal logic or consistency to the main characters, the story flounders desperately along, relying on random riffs to generate laughter.
The results are a decidedly hit and miss affair. The plot, such as it is, is a half-hearted head-scratcher involving Ralph Fiennes’ Moriarty (a promising bit of casting that turns out to be a total washout, unless you’re reduced to tears of laughter by jokes about masturbation), a one-armed tattoo artist (LOL?) played by Steve Coogan, and the about-to-sail Titanic (in a sequence that has not a jot of historical accuracy, but does cue up a humdinger of a cameo). Director-screenwriter Etan Cohen (Get Hard) surely didn’t spend more than five minutes in his mind-palace thinking this case up. What’s more disappointing is that the flights of nonsensical fancy we’ve come to expect from the stars frequently fall flat too. There are funny moments, such as Watson blithely declaring, "It won’t be the first time I fight a cripple," or the heroes throwing a leather ball to each other in a park in a display of Victorian machismo, but each is outnumbered by 20 dire ones.
Rob Brydon, Hugh Laurie and Rebecca Hall are all given screentime but nothing to do, there are multiple sluggish jabs at Trump, and the general lack of zip only gives one time to ponder the general shortage of production value. A third-act song is a rare moment where Holmes & Watson bursts into life, but even that fails to hit the surrealist heights of Anchorman. "The game is a-starting," says a character here. But it doesn’t feel like it ever does.