For a review of “Holmes & Watson,”
In the rare moments when the mystery spoof “Holmes & Watson” clicks, the movie is like a cross between a raunchy ’ 80s comedy and a Daffy Duck cartoon. As super- detective Sherlock Holmes, Will Ferrell is just like Daffy, the overconfident hero, blustering his way into trouble. And as Dr. John Watson, John C. Reilly is Porky Pig, the long- suffering sidekick. They’re a winning pair of losers.
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 “nu mb skull 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.
Written and directed by Etan Cohen ( who previously made the Ferrell vehicle “Get Hard”), “Holmes & Watson” starts with Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth as a boy, learning to suppress his feelings so the bullies at school won’t get to him.
That odd prologue — not that funny, not that relevant to the plot — is the first big sign of trouble for “Holmes & Watson.” Cohen and Ferrell ( who co- produced the picture) apparently wanted their Holmes to be as brilliant as Doyle’s, while still letting the star play to one of his strengths: acting like an overgrown child. Their solution? Make Holmes so emotionally stunted that he’s kind of a drip to be around.
Fast- forward to the early 1900s, and Sherlock Holmes and his best friend, Dr. Watson, are two of the most famous people in England, thanks to their long battle of wits with criminal genius professor James Moriarty. But then Moriarty escapes justice and threatens to kill the queen, putting the crime fighters’ reputation at risk.
Ralph Fiennes plays Moriarty, in one of the movie’s many impressively cast supporting turns. “Holmes & Watson” also has Kelly Macdonald as the landlady/ servant Mrs. Hudson, Hugh Laurie as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, Rob Brydon as Inspector Lestrade, Steve Coogan as a shady onearmed tattoo artist and Rebecca Hall as a visiting American doctor who bewitches Watson.
Cohen and company play around with the classic Holmes mythology. One of the more zingy recurring gags has Sherlock and Watson casually offering each other heroin and cocaine, riffing on Holmes’ frequent drug use in Doyle’s stories. One of the flatter bits has the hero trying out a bunch of different hats from scene to scene, looking for the one that will become his trademark.
Otherwise, “Holmes & Watson” plays fast and loose with the source material, especially when it comes to historical context. Some of the anachronisms are just meant to be jokes, like the heroes using 100- year- old technology to take selfies and send drunken sexts. Others are lazier, like putting the Titanic into a story with Queen Victoria, who died a decade before that ship was built.
True, it’s silly to nitpick the timeline in a Will Ferrell comedy. But that little goof speaks to a larger slackness. Cohen and his cast don’t commit themselves to making fun of anything specific about Sherlock Holmes or the early 1900s; instead, they just generally have a go at anything old- timey ( like the way Reilly’s Watson pronounces the name of that exotic insect “the mos- kwitto”).
Because of the talent involved, every now and then “Holmes & Watson” hits on something bizarre ly inspired: like Watson and his love interest getting sexually aroused while rubbing their hands over a gunk- covered corpse; or Holmes using his deductive skills to figure out where to aim while relieving himself in an alley.
But too many of the movie’s gags land with a thud. An extended dig at President Trump comes off as smug. An Alan Menken- penned musical number is more clunky than magical. Multiple smutty scenes never build up any good scatological momentum because the picture’s rated PG- 13.
“Holmes & Watson” is more of a well- meaning misfire than a total train wreck. It’s frustrating mainly because all of these folks can do much better. They can be a lot Daffier.
“Holmes & Watson,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG- 13 for crass humor and sexual talk. Running time: 89 minutes.
There’s loads of promise in “Bird Box.”
Start with a killer cast, headlined by Sandra Bullock, and featuring John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery and Tom Hollander in supporting roles. Drop them into a story adapted by Eric Heisserer, the Oscarnominated screenwriter of the brainy sci- fi film “Arrival.”
Stir in a high- concept plot, inspired by Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel about a post- apocalyptic world in which people must navigate its terrors blind, lest they so much as look at invasive entities with the power to take on the form of one’s deepest fears. As a premise — which assumes that the sense of sight could open the door to accelerated madness and suicide — it has echoes of the masterful suspense thriller “A Quiet Place,” in which the slightest sound could be deadly.
But as these auspicious ingredients come together under filmmaker Susanne Bier, the Danish director of the Oscar- winning “In a Better World,” the dish never quite jells. The film essentially begins at its climax, and then backtracks, via flashback, to the onset of the crisis, hopping forward and back repeatedly over a fiveyear gap. This has the effect of destroying momentum.
In the very first scene, we meet Bullock’s Malorie as she prepares to guide two small children, known only as Boy and Girl ( Julian Edwards and Vivien Lyra Blair), down a river in a small boat — with blindfolds on. It’s a dangerous journey, yes; the river contains rapids. But it’s not as dangerous as opening their eyes.
To explain why, “Bird Box” must go back five years to the arrival of the threat, which we never quite see, except as shadows and a kind of static “wind” that lifts fallen leaves off the ground. Malorie, who is pregnant, finds shelter with a small band of survivors, who have holed up in a house with the windows blacked out.
These scenes are among the film’s most interesting and suspenseful, although Heisserer’s script sometimes includes bizarre tonal shifts. One scene in which the group makes a run to a grocery store for supplies — driving a car with the windows painted over, guided only by GPS and the vehicle’s proximity sensor — is actually rather funny, as the car’s tires roll over and crush the skulls of deceased victims lying in the street.
It’s treated as a morbid joke, but it doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the film, which otherwise plays the dread straight, not for laughs.
There are certain pleasures here, mostly in the cast of characters. Malkovich’s misanthropic egoist is chief among them. And Bullock makes for a fierce and relatable Mama Bear.
But as for tension, there’s precious little. “Bird Box” ( which takes its name from the ability of birds to sense the presence of the film’s creatures) never really makes us feel the story’s stakes. Unlike “A Quiet Place,” which also mixed fear with a meditation on the meaning of family, this story of survival — with one fewer sense than the five God gave us — ultimately remains an intellectual exercise, not an emotional one.
“Bird Box,” a Netflix release, is rated R for crude language and brief sexuality. Running time: 124 minutes. ★ ½
Sandra Bullock stars in the Netflix film “Bird Box.”