Legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and the inimitable Dr. Watson (or is it the other way around?) are at the center of this comic spoof that stars Academy Award®-winning actors Michael Caine (Best Supporting Actor, Hannah and Her Sisters) and Ben Kingsley (Best Actor, Gandhi). Dr. John Watson (Kingsley) has fooled the world. He’s created a work of fiction in the figure of the crime-solving sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, when it is he himself who has set about solving crimes. With the public demanding to see the legendary Holmes in the flesh, and to keep the charade in play, Watson hires out-of-work actor Reginald Kincaid (Caine) to assume the role with very mixed, and very funny, results. The game's afoot with Watson and the unlikely Holmes hot on the trail of Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman, Raiders of The Lost Ark), the nefarious mastermind behind a plot that could topple the British Empire.
Thanks to the popularity of the Robert Downey, Jr. movies, the Benedict Cumberbatch BBC series, and America's own 'Elementary' television show on CBS, Sherlock Holmes is more mainstream than ever. So it's perhaps no surprise that Olive Films has dusted off 1988's comedic spoof 'Without a Clue' for its Blu-ray debut.
The movie has fun with the Sherlock Holmes legend by setting up a scenario where it's Dr. John Watson (Ben Kingsley) who's the investigative mastermind, while Holmes (Michael Caine) is little more than a bumbling fool. In fact, Sherlock Holmes is just a name Watson created, as this 'Holmes' is a former struggling actor who is an alcoholic, a womanizer, and an all-around idiot.
As the story unfolds, Watson has had his fill of Holmes' stupidity and ends their relationship, feeling he'll do much better solving his own cases as John Watson: The Crime Doctor. However, it soon becomes apparent to Watson that everyone in London believes Holmes is the real genius, and no one is going to pay attention to anything Watson says or does. So Watson has to go back to Holmes and convince him to play the part once again.
The humor and wordplay in 'Without a Clue' are far more entertaining than the main mystery, which naturally involves Holmes' and Watson's arch nemesis, Professor Moriarity (Paul Freeman). The crimes taking place, however, are really just a reason for the creators of the movie to put Holmes in one humorous situation after another, and most of them pay off – although I must confess the first two-thirds of the film is much more entertaining than the final act.
As one might surmise, the real draw here is the interaction and chemistry between Caine and Kingsley, and it's quite good, as the two actors sort of have an 'Odd Couple' relationship with one another throughout the film. In retrospect, it's sort of a shame 'Without a Clue' bombed at the box office back in 1988, as seeing more adventures between this particular Holmes and Watson might have been a lot of fun.
Because of the lack of bonus materials and borderline video and audio quality of this Olive Films release, I can't quite recommend 'Without a Clue' for purchase, but it's certainly worth a look if you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes or either of the lead actors. While this is obviously not a serious take on the legend, there's a sense of comradery here that makes this film actually one of the better Sherlock Holmes renditions to hit the big screen. It's an enjoyable piece of entertainment.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Without a Clue' reveals itself on Blu-ray in a standard keepcase, which houses the single-layer 25GB disc, along with a cardboard foldout that contains photos of box covers for other Olive Films releases and a mail-in card to sign up for their e-newsletter. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose main menu is a still shot of the box cover artwork, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A-locked.
The back box cover for 'Without a Clue' claims this is a 1.66:1 transfer (which would have been the correct aspect ratio for the European release of this movie, and quite possibly the American release as well), however, this clearly appears to be a 1.85:1 transfer, as there are no vertical black bars on the edges of the screen (which would be there if this were 1.66:1) and slight horizontal bars on the top and bottom of the screen (which wouldn't be there in the 1.66:1 ratio). So I feel fairly safe in saying the 1.66:1 claim on the back box cover is inaccurate.
The movie was originally shot in 35mm, and gets a decent transfer, although not one without some flaws. The most noticeable problem here is that a lot of dirt and debris are still evident in the print, so both black and white flecks are present in virtually every shot of the movie. 'Without a Clue' has very much a brownish/greyish look to its cinematography, giving the movie a very 'flat' look to it in 1080p. While some detail is certainly present, there's not a 'wow' factor to any of the scenes in this transfer. Because of the darker look to the overall film, the movie does suffer a bit during many of its nighttime sequences, where a touch of black crush often creeps in, making things hard to distinguish. Thankfully, it's not too bad nor too frequent.
If there's good news here, it's that the movie still comes across looking very much like film, meaning that any DNR that was applied to this Blu-ray transfer seems to be minimal at best. So short of a total restoration of the movie, I can't imagine fans of 'Without a Clue' being too disappointed with what they get here. It's far from stunning, but it's still the best looking home video version of the movie we've seen to date (I believe the previous MGM DVD version was full frame, so there's also that to keep in mind).
The only audio track available on this release is an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is solid, if unspectacular. All the sound, of course, come from one's front two speakers, and there's not much interplay between the two of them – with often the exact same sound coming from both sides. The audio wasn't quite as crisp as I would have expected and it seemed to me that there was just a hint of 'muddiness' to the spoken word. Still, there's nothing on the track to distract from one's enjoyment of the movie, nor any obvious glitches in terms of dropouts or hissing. This is pretty average as lossless 2.0 audio goes, but serviceable enough for this title.
No subtitles have been provided for this Blu-ray release.
'Without a Clue' is an entertaining, if at times a little too slapstick, 'what if' comedy that has a lot of fun at the expense of the literary legend. The chemistry between lead actors Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley is the highlight of this movie, although the lack of extras and rather average A/V quality of this release land this Blu-ray firmly in rental territory.