WITHOUT A CLUE
(UK - 1988)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Theatrical soundtrack: Dolby Stereo
'Sherlock Holmes' turns out to be a ham actor (Michael Caine), hired by brilliant detective Dr. John Watson (Ben Kingsley) to play a character whose adventures are dramatised by Watson and published in a popular weekly magazine. But the two men are forced to set aside their differences when Prof. Moriarty (Paul Freeman) hatches a fiendish plot to destabilise the British Empire...
An unexpected gem. Thom Eberhardt's clever reworking of the mythology surrounding Holmes and Watson relies for the most part on character-based comedy rather than puns and sight-gags, and a wonderful cast of experienced British thesps plays it with just the right amount of reverence and mockery (Caine and Kingsley, in particular, make a formidable comic team). However, the script - by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther - is entirely faithful to the spirit of Conan Doyle's most famous creation: Despite Holmes' incompetence and Watson's escalating outrage, the central mystery is genuinely skilful and engrossing, the clues are delightfully outlandish, and the Victorian atmosphere is conveyed with elegant simplicity, thanks to stylish art direction (by Brian Ackland-Snow) and costume design (by Judy Moorcroft).
However, the writers aren't afraid to poke gentle fun at the established conventions, particularly Holmes'/Watson's uncanny ability to draw conclusions from even the most obscure scraps of evidence, and the climax manages to combine warm-hearted comedy and genuine thrills during a final showdown with Moriarty in an abandoned theatre. Sadly, the movie failed to make a splash at the UK/US box-office when released in 1988, but it deserves more than a second chance on DVD. Highly recommended.