Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. They're both Oscar-winning actors whose CVs include some of the greatest landmarks of cinema history... but also some shocking rubbish. Oi, Kingsley. Bloodrayne? I'd vaguely expected Kingsley to be the classier of the two, but in fact he's bloody awful in this film while Michael Caine is magnificent.
I hated the idea of this movie. Sherlock Holmes in this film is really an alcoholic ex-actor called Reginald Kincaid, hired by Watson to go around pretending to be the Great Detective. Watson's the one who really solves the crimes, but everyone thinks he's merely the sidekick. This sounded bloody awful. However Michael Caine's Kincaid is a joy, lifting the film whenever he's on screen. He's hilarious! He thinks detective work is twaddle, although he gets in a snit whenever he thinks Lestrade's about to solve a case instead of Sherlock. He's a gambler, a womaniser and an idiot. He can't even use the English language properly! It's awesome to see him making a spectacle of himself time and again, only for his worshipful fans (i.e. everyone) to murmur in awe at his genius.
You see, there's something unique about the rules of the Sherlock Holmes universe. We're reading stories written by Dr Watson rather than a literal representation of fictional reality, which oddly allows films like this to stay within the rules. It's not a parody. It's canon, or at least as canon as any movie can be. This is the real Sherlock Holmes universe, including details from Conan Doyle's original stories. The opening sequence is from The Red-Headed League, with Holmes and Watson catching John Clay and his accomplice Archie in an attempt to rob the Bank of England. It even has some of Conan Doyle's dialogue. "Jump, Archie, and I'll swing for it!"
The only difference is that this Watson is being more selective in writing down his narratives than the one we're used to. Nevertheless everything that we think happened really did so.
Anyway, I adored Caine. I hadn't even liked the idea for his character, but what he does is head and shoulders above everything else in the film put together. He's less funny towards the end when circumstances force him to become less buffoonish and turn detective for real, but he's downright cool in the final swordfight with Moriarty. I'd recommend the film just for him.
Ben Kingsley though is appalling. He seems to have decided that the film's rubbish and he's sleepwalking towards his pay cheque. Admittedly the presence of his character makes Caine's scenes funnier, but I was shocked by how lazy Kingsley is here. Until this I'd always rated him, you know. Ah well.
That's pretty much everything you need to know about the movie, to be honest. Everything else is what you think it's going to be. They do a proper Victorian London, although every so often there's a comedy boing sound or something else to suggest that the film's trying to play it a little bit too broad. When someone falls over, they speed the film up. Sigh. There's a gag with Lestrade and Lesley Giles at the end which didn't work for me, because I couldn't tell whether the film was trying to say that Lestrade had or hadn't twigged. Oh, and people getting stabbed in the throat normally bleed.
Did I mention that Moriarty's henchman kills people? He does. This may be a comedy, but fortunately it's gone to the trouble of having a proper detective story plot with villains you can take seriously. Thumbs up from Finn there. This is a film that holds up in all departments, but also happens to be funny.
The acting can be a bit ho-hum, mind you, with Lysette Anthony having nothing of interest to offer and Paul Freeman never standing out as Moriary. Jeffrey Jones was driving me nuts as Lestrade though, because I recognised his face but couldn't think where he was from. Afterwards I looked him on the internet. He was also Charles Deetz in Beetlejuice, oddly enough in the same year as this (1988).
This isn't a complicated film to talk about, but it's one I really enjoyed. It's a simple idea that works infinitely better than I'd expected it to when I put it on. It's a comedy about Reginald Kincaid, which thanks to Caine's performance turns out to be full of potential. He can be lecherous, untrustworthy and stupid, but in the end he's also sweet. Awwwww. It's Caine's show and because he's so good in the role, he makes the film worth watching.
Besides, it's cool to see Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as Holmes and Watson, simply by virtue of who they are. I'd recommend this. Kingsley's taking the piss and the film has the odd touch of unnecessary silliness, but otherwise it's a lot of fun.