Without a Clue (1988)

Genres - Comedy, Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy Thriller, Farce  |   Release Date - Oct 21, 1988 (USA)  |   Run Time - 107 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Filmed at around the same time as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Without a Clue finds Michael Caine in similarly deceitful form as a second-tier actor hired to portray the fictitious Sherlock Holmes -- a position his employer (Ben Kingsley) discovers is regrettably permanent. This lays the groundwork for a delicious setup in which the true genius (Kingsley's John Watson) must cleverly feed the puppet genius enough information to "solve" the crimes, all while himself playing the humiliating role of doting protégé. In a truly underrated and under-seen performance, Caine proffers enough hilarious circumlocutory reasoning to convince his adoring public that he's a profound detective mastermind. In fact, given his amazing improvisational skills, it's a bit strange that the film takes for granted that he's an untalented hack. Half the time he's half sloshed, and his skirt-chasing barely escapes notice, but because the myth of Holmes is so great, the actor realizes he can have fun with the part without getting fired. This is all much to the chagrin of Watson, who wants his books to remain best-sellers, and needs an untainted Holmes for that to happen. (It's never certain whether we're supposed to believe that Watson is actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but that hardly matters.) Caine's refrain "Make a note of that, Watson" develops a gut-busting familiarity, and some of his facial expressions during scenes of interrogation -- deep thoughts to his admirers, desperate wool-gathering to the audience -- make it a riotous performance. The crime that forms the story's backbone is mostly forgettable, but the fact that it allows Caine and Kingsley to interact with such thinly veiled mutual disdain is reason enough to applaud it.