Without a Clue, 1988.
Directed by Thom Eberhardt.
Starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman and Peter Cook.
Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley) creates the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes as cover for his own crime-solving exploits, hiring a drunken actor (Michael Caine) to portray the legendary sleuth when the British government request the aid of the country’s greatest detective.
When did everything get so fast? In comparison to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, Without a Clue plays like syrup on the eyes. Both find their source in Arthur Conan Doyle’s deductive detective. Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is surprisingly faithful to the books, but thinks nothing of its pacing. Without a Clue is the opposite.
Its premise has John Watson (Ben Kingsley) as the brain behind the duo. In fact, Sherlock Holmes is nothing but a literary invention of Watson’s. Not wanting to sacrifice his medical integrity as an occasional crime solver, Watson creates the Sherlock Holmes character. But, as Homles’ popularity increases, the public demands to see him. So Watson finds an actor, Reginald Kencaid (Michael Caine), to perform for the 19th century media.
Kencaid is a drunk, a gambler and a womaniser, clinging onto his one great performance pre-Sherlock Holmes. Watson is a cultured, intelligent man who finds Kencaid insufferable. Kencaid is too drunk to care. They make quite the odd couple.
The film initially grates because it is just so slow. The comedy deserves a much snappier delivery. One longs for Without a Clue to at least break into a jog, but alas. Think of Fawlty Towers with John Cleese slamming doors, running in and out of various rooms – that is the sort of farcical mayhem the viewer will yearn for. But when did the film ever declare itself as a bawdy, slapstick comedy? Was Ritchie’s Holmes really so good that all adaptations before it have been cast into a sluggish slumber?
But then, after a while, little parts of Without a Clue start to click into a rhythm, like a good run of brick shapes in Tetris. I don’t know whether the film quickened, or whether I adjusted to its pace, but everything became rather effortlessly fun. The occasional slapstick set-piece eased the flow, snowballing into a comical sword fight for the final scene. In the end, looking back, there was a Peter Sellers, Pink Panther sheen to it all.
This leads me to think that Without a Clue is probably a pretty good film at a certain time. Not for a boozy, lads’ night in, nor for snuggles with a loved one. No, Without a Clue, to appreciate it fully, must be watched on a Sunday afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm, on a full, post-roast dinner stomach, and with a cup of tea. For optimum viewing, the more dedicated amongst us might even wait till it’s on ITV4. Those commercial breaks open up so many tea-brewing possibilities.
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