Thom Eberhardt, 1988
Starring: Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman
Sherlock Holmes spoofs are unfortunately as inevitable as they are timeless. So far there are more satirical books than films, but Without a Clue takes an honest stab at turning Holmes and Watson on their heads in this endearing if thoroughly uneven film.
Directed by Thom Eberhardt of Captain Ron fame, the premise is that Dr. Watson is a crime-solving and literary genius. He has invented a literary figure, Sherlock Holmes, who has become so popular that no one will believe Watson's genius and he is forced to hire an actor. Enter Reginald Kincaid, a drunk, gambling, womanizing idiot who cares about no one but himself. He can barely remember the lines Watson carefully scripts for him and frequently comes close to blowing a case. Despite these things, the press, police force, and government love him. When Watson fires him, fed up and jealous, he is forced to drag Kincaid back to solve a mystery that involves counterfeiting pound-notes and the Bank of England. This leads Holmes, Watson, one of the young Irregulars and the jealous, clumsy Lestrade to the countryside, where they team up with a missing bank manager's daughter. Of course, Moriarty is behind it all, but he kills Watson, forcing the blundering Holmes to work through the clues and solve the case.
The major flaw of Without a Clue is that it is based around the concept of a brilliant Watson and a bumbling Holmes -- which is admittedly excellent thanks to two great performances -- but it doesn't go much farther than this. The film starts out strong, but the jokes get old and the middle of the film drags quite a bit. When Holmes/Kincaid is forced to prove his merit, things get interesting again and there is quite an amusing second half. Over all I enjoyed it, but the real reason to see the film is for Kingsley's exasperated Watson and the ever wonderful Michael Caine as Holmes/Kincaid.
There are a lot of flaws. There aren't very strong or compelling side characters, which makes this an interesting but failed attempt. Though Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice) is amusing as the frustrated Lestrade, Lysette Anthony (Krull) as the bank manager's daughter is incredibly irritating and provides neither romantic intrigue or comic relief. The film involves lots of scenery chewing, though there are some lovely set pieces to do this on -- Victorian buildings, underground tunnels, abandoned theaters and so on. There is plenty of intellectual humor, witty fast-talking, slapstick and physical comedy, but I would still only recommend it for fans of spoof humor or devoted Sherlockians. There is a basic region 1 DVD available from MGM.