Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sherlock Who?: The Strange Case of the End of Civilization...

It is very rare that I cover movie comedies here, so that should tell you something. Some might say that this is a flimsy pretense to talk about a Sherlock Holmes film during all the build-up to the new film. That's just silly. By the way, stay tuned for Part 2 of my 'Future Holmes' segment in Forgotten Toons. Anyhow, this film is notable because it stars John Cleese, does not have a *good* DVD release (VHS Master all the way!) and is funny as hell. Considering that it stars one of the men behind Monty Python and is about the world's most famous detective (suck it, Monk!), you would think that this movie would be a bigger deal. On the plus side, it is obscure enough for me to seem important for reviewing it. Hurray for that, I guess. If you like your movies silly, check out my review of...
The Strange Case of the End of Civilization As We Know It
After an opening credits sequence involving Cleese riding around London on a bike...for some reason, we are treated to a bunch of dignitaries on a plane. After the stewardess passes by, we meet a man who is supposed to Henry Kissinger. They don't call him that, mind you, but he really is. He lands in Palestine and says 'shalom,' which prompts all of the people there to shoot him. Why did he do that? As is explained to the President (an avatar of Gerald Ford), he had misplaced his notebook and could not recall where he was going. At this point, the comedic tone is set by the briefing scene. If you don't like old Vaudeville-style gags, avoid this movie. In England, a collective of detectives (trying to that five times fast!) has assembled to deal with the problem. On the plane, you see, a note was left from the culprit. They explained that they plan to bring the end of civilization (as we know it) in less than a week. The name on letter: Moriarty. The detectives are led by the British delegate (Denholm Elliot) and feature people from America, Australia and Africa. They think up one man to call: Sherlock Holmes.
As we quickly learn, this descendant is a bit less intelligent than his stock would make you think. Initially, he fights with the Police Inspector sent to recruit him, but gets beaten up. We also learn that he is a bit of a drug addict in some oddly-subtle jokes (for this movie, mind you). After the Inspector leaves, he comes back a moment later with a knife in his back. Holmes runs to get help, while the dim Watson (a doctor, mind you) decides to pull the knife out. He is corrected on that by the maid and puts the knife back in! Holmes explains what happened & a delighted Watson asks him how he figured it out. He replies- 'I watched you do it!' They take a bus to the meeting and try to help out. The computer tries to think up an answer, but fails. However, the African delegate forces some answers from it with threats of torture. He even kills the thing when they get what they want. Another candidate for Poor Bastards of Cinema perhaps? There is also a running gag with a sniper across the street killing the delegates. If you ever wanted to see a film make a bit about people being assassinated, this is your movie!
Holmes and Watson...well, mostly Holmes come up with a plan. They invite all of the world's greatest detectives to a summit to discuss the matter. What's the reason for this, you ask? To lure out Moriarty, of course. This gives us a whole slew of movie and television show parodies, including Columbo, Hercule Poirot and Q. Yeah, they don't give us James Bond...which is just what you would be expecting. On the plus side, we do get to see John Cleese doing a Kojak impression, even if Watson and the maid don't get it. They do make fun of his bald cap in a funny, fourth wall-breaking joke. Unfortunately, as parodies of people like McCloud are brought in, they are killed off-camera by...Watson. But wait, Watson is upstairs doing the crossword puzzle with Holmes! This is revealed to our hero as he exits into a hallway. In an hilarious bit, he figures out which one of them is real by asking them a series of questions. When one of them gives a clear answer, he knows that it is the fake one! The killer is revealed to be...
...yeah, I'm not going to spoil it for once. Just watch the movie.
This movie is very good, but will certainly not appeal to everyone. The humor is very silly and never claims to be Masterpiece Theater. The tone is juvenile and the jokes are telegraphed a mile in advance. Cleese had a good time making the movie, which is quite evident in the movie. He does some great physical comedy gags and is extremely sarcastic. This movie's Watson is the biggest idiot on God's green Earth, making you wonder why he is working with Holmes. However, the movie answers this question with a silly line from Cleese explaining how Watson is part-bionic. In case you are wondering, there is a pay-off for the gag and I will not spoil that one either. The film has some funny bits with breaking the fourth wall, including the last title card which is very long & followed by the narrator explaining that it is longer because it is the last one! If your sense of humor is warped and silly, this is your movie.
Fun fact: The NY Times apparently had the same idea as me and featured this film on their website. Go figure.
Next up, I begin my Christmas celebration. First up, the Christmas horror film that promises a lot and delivers...extremely little. Stay tuned...

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