Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Sherlock Holmes has successfully became one of my favorite literary figures. It has gotten to the point where there are only a few movies about him that I have not seen, and those I feel demean the character in some way are given a hearty stamp of disapproval. I was somewhat reluctant to rent Without a Clue but am glad I did, for it is a genuinely funny reversal of roles that is fit for the entire family without offending my delicate Holmes sensibilities.
The great detective has solved another baffling case, to the dismay of Scotland Yard and the pleasure of the crown. Or so it seems. First, the case is not solved and second... there is no Sherlock Holmes. There is, however, a somewhat stupid actor hired to play him in order to maintain a ruse that is rapidly getting on the nerves of Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley). Fascinated with crime but hoping for a professional practice with an esteemed London hospital, Dr. Watson fabricated Holmes in the belief that he would not get the position if it was known that he was involved in such undignified pursuits as solving mysteries. He lost the position anyway but the public loved Holmes, so much so that he is forced to put up with the theatrics of a local washed up actor (Michael Caine) in the role of the world-renowned sleuth.
Having come to the end of his emotional rope, Watson tosses "Holmes" out on his ear, only to need him again when it becomes apparent that no one is willing to listen to his theories of the crime. Reuniting with Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars to take on the notorious Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman) and uncover a diabolical plan to print billions of dollars in five pound notes, the unlikely duo find mayhem along the way. With the beautiful young Leslie (Lysette Anthony) to distract "Holmes," who knows what will happen! The result is a surprisingly good-humored poke not at the great detective as one might suppose, but that allows Watson for once to shine, since the roles are so dramatically reversed. In the old black and white films it is Holmes who is intelligent and calculating, who strides around with a sense of purpose and mystery, and Watson who has been reduced to a bumbling buffoon. In this movie, Watson has his day!
One of the more overlooked gems of comedic history, Without a Clue has all sorts of humor. Slapstick and wit, exploding chemistry sets and falling sandbags, sarcasm and visual gags. Best of all, most of it is clean and even the lesser offenses are not truly damaging. It refrains from being crass and as such, the audience feels no shame in laughing about it. There is almost no content, just scattered mild profanities. The actor playing Holmes is a womanizer, so on occasion he pinches backsides and once peers through a keyhole to watch a young woman undress. (She is shown removing her stockings.) There is one mild innuendo. However, there is a plot twist toward the end that another young woman is not a woman at all, but a cross-dresser. The duo and the audience are left to snicker when Lestrade unknowingly flirts with him/her. There is some violence but none of it is graphic or particularly unsettling. There is a fair amount of drinking.
The cast is great. Michael Caine is magnificent in funny roles, quite a change from his customary grouchiness in various other productions, and has perfect timing. I haven't seen Kinglsey in that many films but his Watson impressed me a lot. He has a nice sense of presence and also has some very funny moments (such as throwing himself four feet onto the divan, which slides about a foot, just as Lestrade enters the room). There is also a wonderful performance from Pat Keen as the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson. It is not meant to be taken seriously and as such will not offend lovers of Holmes. I found it a wonderful way to spend an evening and know that the rest of my family will enjoy it too.