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"I've got it! His real name is Arty-Morti!"
on March 12, 2004
Without a Clue (1988) poses an interesting and humorous take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film asks what if the character of Sherlock Holmes was truly a fictional character created by Doctor Watson, and is played by an actor, with Watson being the actual mastermind behind solving the various cases and crimes?
In the film, Ben Kingsley plays Doctor Watson, the man behind the deductive and crime solving skills of his fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. For reasons that are revealed within the movie, Watson was not able to take credit for solving his first caper, so he invented the character of Sherlock Holmes, but soon found his creation was in great demand, so he hired an actor, Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine) to play the part of the detective while Watson stayed in the background continuing to be the 'brains' of the operation. Only problem is Reginald Kincaid is a buffoonish, womanizing, gambling, drunkard, and unable to, as he put it, '...detect horse manure if he stepped in it.' After a falling out, Doctor Watson fires Kincaid, and decides to go it alone as 'The Crime Doctor'. Guess what? The legend of Holmes has grown so large and become ensconced so deeply within the public psyche that no one takes Watson seriously, and even his publisher threatens to sue if Watson reveals the truth of the situation publicly. Not only that, but a rather important case involving the financial integrity of the British Empire has surfaced, one involving the nefarious Professor Moriarty, and Holmes is the only man for the job. Watson finds himself in the humbling position of bringing Kincaid back for what will be one last performance.
Kingsley and Caine play their parts perfectly, and are supported by a wonderful cast including Jeffery Jones as Inspector Lestrade, Paul Freeman as Moriarty, Lysette Anthony, and Peter Cook. The dialogue is witty, and even though the plot a bit thin in some areas, the film works wonderfully as a farcical tale with just the right amounts of slapstick and tongue in cheek humor. A completely professional job done by everyone all around. My favorite part of the film was the notion of Watson using Holmes to keep Inspector Lastrade busy tracking down pointless leads while Watson performed the real detection at the crime scene. I was laughing hard when Holmes was on all fours inspecting the pattern of a rug with the baffled inspector right next to him, trying to get the jump on the 'master' detective.
I was a little disappointed in the release of this film on DVD, as I thought the picture and sound quality could have been better. Also, why is there only a full screen release available? Special features are virtually non-existent with the inclusion of a trailer for the film. MGM usually does a pretty good job with their releases, but they seemed to have dropped the ball here. Anyway, this is a great little film, and worth watching if only to see two fine actors at work