Without a Clue (1988) starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman, Nigel Davenport, Pat Keen, Peter Cook directed by Thom E. Eberhardt Movie Review

Without a Clue (1988)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Michael Caine as Sherlock Holmes in Without a Clue (1988)

The Faker of Baker Street

There have been a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies over the years with numerous actors playing the fictional master sleuth but "Without a Clue" is a bit special. It has all the ingredients of a classic Sherlock Holmes movie, we have Holmes & Watson, Mrs. Hudson the housekeeper, Inspector Lestrade and of course a mystery involving Moriarty but one thing makes this stand out. That one thing is the premise because in this amusing take we have Holmes being nothing more than a front man, an actor with a penchant for drink and a bit of an idiot who Watson uses to front their investigations whilst he does all the real work. It is brilliant especially the first time we witness Watson berating Holmes for being an idiot and in that moment it grabs you having you in fits of laughter.

Having some years earlier created the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes and found drunk actor Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine - Jaws: The Revenge) to play him Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley - Shutter Island) has grown tired of Holmes grabbing all the headlines especially when Kincaid is nothing more than a drunk idiot. But Watson learns that without Holmes no one will listen to him and so is forced to continue the masquerade of Holmes being the master sleuth whilst he does all the work, cleverly prompting his partner with the facts when the public call on him to enlighten them over a case. And it is a case of forged bank notes that the duo find themselves investigating with Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) desperate to solve the case before Holmes & Watson do.

Ben Kingsley as Dr. John Watson in Without a Clue (1988)

"Without a Clue" fools you into a false sense of security as it opens with a robbery which Holmes & Watson foil in typical fashion as Holmes escapes a brush with death. Except we then get the truth as with everyone gone we discover that it is a masquerade, Holmes is a front man, a fool of an actor who has the charisma which the public love and feed of the stories printed about him in the press. And so we get the amusement as all those classic Holmes elements are turned on their head, the violin playing turns out to be Holmes playing along to a record and the science experiments are in fact Watson's which Holmes messes up. Pretty much all those things, those quirks which make Holmes a bit of a curiosity are brilliantly made fun of especially as Watson is at his wits end working with a buffoon.

It means that much of the success of "Without a Clue" comes from the way Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley work together and they spark off each other brilliantly. There is a smoothness to the way they interact when in the presence of others with Holmes smartly avoiding answering questions deferring them to Watson whilst Watson does a nice job of feeding him info on the quiet through a series of signals. And when in private the frustration of Watson is brilliant with a touch of the nefarious when he considers what it would be like to get rid of Holmes.

Of course "Without a Clue" is not just about turning Holmes & Watson on its head and we have a mystery of forged bank notes which involve Moriarty. And in a way this is the movies weakness because truth be told it feels hard to follow, things suddenly becoming clear out of nowhere. Although having said that you have so much fun from watching the amusing relationship between Holmes & Watson that you don't really follow it anyway. And in a way I don't think you are meant to but just enjoy the inept way things work out and the comedy of the big action finale.

What this all boils down to is that "Without a Clue" is rip roaring fun as the whole classic situation of Holmes & Watson is turned on its head. It's a shame that it is not better known because it is one of the most entertaining Sherlock Holmes movies I have ever watched.