Sherlock Holmes is a dashing and great detective...only it not his brain that works things out but rather that of his brilliant 'assistant' Dr Watson, who in fact has hired an actor to play Holmes as a massive PR stunt. Needless to say, Sherlock gets a big head and the whole plan misfires.
The basic joke of this would-be romp is that Kingsley’s Watson is a genius while Caine’s Sherlock is an alcoholic idiot, but that the clever doctor is now frustrated because his fictional creation is hailed as an infallible hero while he is always pushed out of the picture.
To really work, the film should have cast a leading man who might have made a good serious Holmes, but the lazy Caine is all too credible in his idiot act – in one of the best jokes, Watson covers up a faux pas by complementing ‘Holmes’ on his convincing disguise as a drunken lout – and so the laughs that should come in a flow only manage to trickle.
The plot is a trifle about forged bank-notes ruining the Empire, but is constructed to allow for the usual excursion by picturesque steam train to a clue-ridden holiday destination and some dirty deeds down by the docks. Though the leads coast through their routines, the supporting cast features an appropriately ratlike and embittered Inspector Lestrade from Jeffrey Jones, a winsomely duplicitous Victorian heroine from Lysette Anthony and a rather good goateed sadist Professor Moriarty from Paul Freeman.
It can’t hold a magnifying glass to Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but as a Holmesian footnote it edges a deerstalker ahead of Gene Wilder’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and bests the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore Hound of the Baskervilles. Director Thom Eberhardt made an impression with the witty Night of the Comet, but this bland follow-up condemned him to career hell.
A mediocre attempt with a cast that deserve a lot better