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Movie Review

For years—ever since they were children, really—Dr. John Watson has played Luigi to Sherlock Holmes' Mario, Sonny to Holmes' Cher, bits to Holmes' kibble. While Holmes was lauded as England's greatest detective, Watson was known as—well, the guy who hung out with him.

All great-if-lopsided partnerships eventually end, though, no matter how great and lopsided they are. (Just ask Simon and Garfunkel.) Now, having solved his most recent great case to his satisfaction, Holmes' detecting career seems at a glorious end. He hopes to turn his incredible mind to "nutritional science" now, and perhaps Dr. Watson can stop being a sidekick and become, I dunno, a doctor.

But wait! A new threat has ruptured like a blackhead on the skin of society! The life of Queen Victoria, beloved monarch of the British Empire, has been threatened in a plot so devious, so convoluted, so holistically nonsensical that it seems to be the work of the villainous mastermind known as Moriarty!

Holmes, of course, knows that's impossible. Why, Holmes himself conclusively proved that the man everyone thought was Moriarty—a man who nearly went to the gallows for murder—was not Moriarty at all, but some poor bloke who just looked, dressed and talked like him. (Good thing Holmes stepped in, or the Moriarty clone might've been mistakenly executed.) The real Moriarty, Holmes has deduced, is in America, plotting nefarious crimes in that distant land.

No, this adversary—one who seems to mirror Moriarty's every underhanded move—must be a new challenger, one who will test every finely-honed strand of brain fiber in Holmes' expansive cranium.

(Oh, and test Watson too, of course. You know, in a sidekick sort of way.)

No, Holmes must shelve nutritional science for the moment and return to detective work, for the good of Queen, country and Holmes' own considerable ego. As he himself says, "Come, Watson! The game's a-starting!"

Positive Elements

Watson's loyalty to his longtime comrade is … well, not inspirational, exactly, but it is nice. You don't just find that sort of loyalty in a box of Sugar Bombs (part of a complete breakfast!). It takes a while for Holmes to appreciate Watson as he should, but he comes around eventually.

Indeed, you could argue that this case pushes Holmes into a journey of self-discovery and realization—a journey that makes him understand that love can be just as important as logic, that the heart is just as essential as the head.

Spiritual Content

We hear a couple of utterances of "God save the Queen" and whatnot. A young Holmes listens to a lecture about Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Sexual Content

Holmes deduces Moriarty is not Moriarty (as it were) by detecting the unfortunate clone's penchant for sexual self-stimulation. We're exposed to, oh, roughly 16 gazillion references to that penchant, including crass words, gestures, asides and nods to bodily fluids. There's also a couple of references to the belief that frequent masturbation will kill. (Oddly, Watson promises never to "touch" himself ever again if he gets out of a certain scrape.)

Watson and Holmes both develop romantic attachments in the movie: Watson to Dr. Grace Hart, a beautiful American physician, and Holmes to the doctor's companion Millie, who we're told was raised by feral cats.

Watson and Grace have a romantic encounter during an autopsy (complete with a Victorian-era version of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody"), where they touch and give each other knowing looks over a mostly nude, cake-encrusted corpse. (We don't see any explicit nudity, and the camera leaves before we see the, ahem, autopsy get too involved. But Watson and Grace come out of the autopsy room looking disheveled, and both make suggestive comments afterward.) The two kiss elsewhere. Holmes and Millie also kiss awkwardly, and Holmes opines that the smooch might've somehow impregnated Millie.

A drunken Holmes encourages a drunken Watson to send what Holmes dubs an "intoxigram" to Grace (a Victorian version of "drunk dialing"). Watson exposes himself to the telegram operator (we don't see anything critical), asking him to draw his privates to send as well.

Watson also seems to have a crush on Queen Victoria. He touches her more than is strictly proper and acts like a nervous eighth-grader in her presence. Both he and Holmes banter about how attractive she is.

Holmes' and Watson's live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, seems to be running a bordello on the side: We see her stumble out of a bedroom with a John, and later she hangs out with several men in revealing undergarments. In flashback, school bullies trick a young Holmes into kissing the rear of a donkey. That same young Holmes detects a hickey on a classmate's neck and gets him expelled. We hear references to prostitutes and prostitution. Holmes discusses the size of his privates. We hear and read coarse references to various anatomical parts.

In a musical interlude, Holmes sings of his love for Watson—purely platonic love, it must be said, but the scene makes use of standard musical rom-com tropes.

Violent Content

In an effort to swat a mosquito, Holmes and Watson thwack each other (and, once, Mrs. Watson) with fists, clubs and cricket bats. Both Holmes and Watson are forced in a ring to fight a 350-pound ruffian: We see Holmes plan his attack (which leads to the ruffian being knocked out), as well as Watson being literally thrown out of the ring before he returns to thump the guy to unconsciousness with a wooden folding chair.

Holmes and Watson tumble out a window to evade killer bees. Someone has their head nearly crushed via a giant gear. A condemned man watches as the gallows is tested: The straw-filled dummy rips during the test, and the body's torn apart by wild dogs. A coachman is attacked by, apparently, ladies of the evening. A man is stabbed in the back. Someone throws a knife into someone else's side, and the victim is left to die (or live, if he can manage it; the camera leaves before we know his fate). Watson shoots up a courtroom (apparently killing a couple of people) and fires several rounds at attacking bees. Holmes poisons Watson and knocks him out with a croquet mallet. A bomb explodes (several times, if you count Holmes' visual considerations of how to best stop it from exploding). In flashback, students grab and hurl Holmes' pet turtle. (We later see the animal in traction.) We hear people talk about murder and killing. We see a dead body in an autopsy room. Guns are fired repeatedly. Children fight each other for the entertainment of others.

Holmes and Watson try to take a Victorian-era selfie with a guest, but they knock her out getting the camera into position. They spend several minutes plotting (and talking frankly) about how best to dispose of the body: They try to stuff the presumed corpse in a trunk (punching the body to get it to fit and sitting on the lid), but when that doesn't work, they throw the body on a table and Watson whips out a bone saw. The would-be victim wakes up before anything irreversible happens.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and nine s-words (or British variants thereof). We also hear "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard" and "d--n." God's name is misused five times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Holmes, as you might imagine, occasionally smokes a pipe. A bigger issue is he and Watson's relentless drug use. Both use cocaine (we see the frenetic effects), and Holmes talks fondly about morphine and opium while Watson opines about heroin. They also get wildly drunk (ostensibly an effort to allay suspicion in a rough part of town) and sing and dance at a pub.

When Holmes and Watson visit a gymnasium/health club, they scoff at a number of people smoking cigarettes for their health.

Other Negative Elements

When he and Watson go to inspect a body at a morgue, Holmes reveals himself to be a man with a surprisingly weak stomach. He vomits heavily several times in a can, and Watson reminds him of other moments in which he got sick under similar circumstances.

Watson plays with a dead man's belly button, coquettishly removing cake batter from therein and licking it off his finger. A young Holmes is relentlessly bullied. We hear some jokes and asides referencing our current political climate. In an effort to disguise Watson, Holmes smears his body with horse feces. Holmes and Watson, both drunk, urinate in an alleyway. We see Holmes' thought process as he does so—including a suggestive illustration of his privates and how, exactly, said liquid is being expelled from his body.


Over the years, we've seen a lot of people,mice and garden figurines try to don Sherlock Holmes' immortal deerstalker hat (a hat that, incidentally, never appears in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories). There was Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen; Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, just to name a few of the actual humans.

Perhaps Will Ferrell should've left well enough alone.

It's not that Holmes and Watson is bad. Rather, it's terrible. Like Moriarty, it seems to steal elements from other Sherlock Holmes movies and make even the bad ones it pilfers from look good by comparison. Yes, even Sherlock Gnomes looks better.

Sure, we may find a stray chuckle or two scattered in the story wreckage here, but you have to sift through so much inappropriate content to get to them. In this pic, Ferrell et al never met a laugh too cheap, and so you have running gags predicated on everything from masturbation to urination to regurgitation. It all gets pretty messy in more ways than one. It doesn't take a Sherlock to deduce that this is a movie to stay far, far away from.

A shame, that. Ferrell and cohort John C. Reilly can be honest-to-goodness funny when they set their minds to it. But despite the movie's brainy protagonist, the mind seems to be the last thing this comedy is concerned with. Most of the jokes aim squarely below the belt, and in more ways than one.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Will Ferrell as Holmes; John C. Reilly as Watson; Ralph Fiennes as Moriarty; Lauren Lapkus as Millie; Rebecca Hall as Dr. Grace Hart; Kelly Macdonald as Mrs. Hudson; Hugh Laurie as Mycroft; Pam Ferris as Queen Victoria


Etan Cohen ( )


Sony Pictures



Record Label



In Theaters

December 25, 2018

On Video

April 9, 2019

Year Published



Paul Asay

Content Caution

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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