Sher­lock re­turns in Holmes & Wat­son. Can Fer­rell and Reilly make Baker Street’s finest fresh and funny?

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - JOHN NU­GENT

The Will Fer­rell/john C. Reilly re­union that asks the ques­tion: what if Holmes and Wat­son were both id­iots?

HERE’S A PUB quiz ques­tion: who is the most por­trayed lit­er­ary char­ac­ter in film and tele­vi­sion his­tory? It is, ac­cord­ing to Guin­ness World Records, Sher­lock Holmes; in the last five years alone, there have been seven sep­a­rate screen adap­ta­tions, in­clud­ing mod­ern Holmes (Sher­lock and El­e­men­tary), el­derly Holmes (Mr. Holmes), and even an­i­mated gar­den-or­na­ment Holmes (Sher­lock Gnomes). Holmes & Wat­son, a comedic take on Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s con­sult­ing de­tec­tive, might seem like it’s en­ter­ing a sat­u­rated mar­ket­place.

But this has been cook­ing for over a decade — well be­fore the cur­rent Holmes gol­drush.

“We started [writ­ing the script] be­fore the first Robert Downey Jr film,” ex­plains director Etan Co­hen, “and they beat us to the start­ing line.” As it goes, the sheer vol­ume of Holmes adap­ta­tions could work in the film’s favour. “Th­ese char­ac­ters have been done so many times in so many dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions,” says Will Fer­rell, who here dons the deer­stalker cap op­po­site John C. Reilly as Holmes’ long-suf­fer­ing as­sis­tant. “In terms of the au­di­ence’s knowl­edge, it’s al­ready in place. It’s a great leap­ing-off point to ex­plore the com­edy.” So while de­liv­er­ing a clas­sic tale of mys­tery and de­duc­tion, the film ramps up the buddy-com­edy el­e­ments — and stays sur­pris­ingly true to its source.

“People aren’t go­ing to be­lieve this,” says Co­hen, “but we’re try­ing to keep things re­ally true to the Sher­lock canon, in a coun­ter­in­tu­itive way. What’s al­ways funny, and true to the Holmes canon, is that the buddy re­la­tion­ship in the books is only one notch less comedic than the

one you’re go­ing to see on screen. The way Holmes treats Wat­son, the way he abuses him, it’s ba­si­cally a buddy com­edy. We’re try­ing to stay hon­est about the way he looks at clues, the way he looks at logic.” He smiles. “No-one is go­ing to ex­pect that from what they might think is Step Brothers 2.”

It’s true: de­spite the goofy ap­proach, th­ese char­ac­ters are worlds away from Step Brothers’ Bren­nan and Dale — the last film to fea­ture this oc­ca­sional dou­ble act. When Em­pire vis­its the lav­ish set, both Fer­rell and Reilly are fab­u­lously garbed in Vic­to­rian waist­coats and cra­vats, with the op­u­lent back­drop of Hampton Court Palace play­ing host to an elab­o­rate, his­tor­i­cally pre­cise ‘An­glo-amer­i­can Fair’. On­look­ers might be for­given for think­ing this is some aus­tere pe­riod drama, and not a com­edy in which a man body-slams a mar­row. The scene we wit­ness — in which Holmes ex­presses far­ci­cal hor­ror that an­other char­ac­ter has dared to mus­cle in on his de­duc­tion — sug­gests they have au­then­tic takes on the Bri­tish ac­cent, too.

“We’re two Amer­i­can comedic ac­tors tak­ing on the most beloved char­ac­ters in English lit­er­a­ture,” says Reilly, from be­hind a mag­nif­i­cently bushy mous­tache. “That’s al­ready pretty ab­surd. So like the pe­riod cos­tumes and lo­ca­tions, we’re try­ing to do the ac­cents as cor­rectly as pos­si­ble — without step­ping on us be­ing funny.” It’s the same Sher­lock and John we’ve seen a dozen times be­fore, then. Only this time, it’ll be hi­lar­i­ous, too.


Em­pire vis­ited Holmes & Wat­son’s op­u­lent set at Hampton Court Palace, Lon­don, on a chilly Fe­bru­ary day in 2017.

Clock­wise from main: A seem­ingly lev­i­tat­ing Wat­son (John C. Reilly) and Holmes (Will Fer­rell) en­counter a com­edy mar­row; This ver­sion of the sleuthing pair have time for the beau­ti­ful game; Will Wat­son never knock it off?

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