DOLITTLE

It’s not news that remakes and reboots are all the rage in Hollywood. Did you know that the Eddie Murphy version of Dr. Dolittle is a actually a reboot of a 60’s film based off the original books? Probably not. Even if you enjoyed Murphy’s version, were you clamoring for a new take on the character? Probably not. Based off novels from the early 20th century, Doctor Dolittle is a property that’s now been adapted three times. The 1967 and 1998 versions were pretty much just comedies about a guy who can communicate with animals, but Dolittle seems to be going back to the roots of the character. In the books, Dolittle was a vet who went on adventures with his talking animal buddies. Instead of a musical or screwball comedy, we get an adventure film, with Dolittle and his menagerie trekking across the globe. Seems different enough, right?
 
The Queen of England (Jessie Buckley) is sick! With not much time left, Princess Lady Rose (Carmel Ladiano) is sent to find the only man who can find the cure: veterinarian Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey, Jr.). Depressed over his wife’s death, Dolittle lives as a hermit with all of his exotic animal friends, who he has the ability to speak with. After much persuasion, Dolittle, his new apprentice Tommy (Harry Collett), and his entourage of talking animals head off on a voyage to find the cure. 
 
Of course, what makes a Doctor Dolittle movie is the titular character. Rex Harrison was a great fit for the original film, with his musical background, and same with Eddie Murphy with his comedy background. With Downey, Jr. being in a lot of action and adventure films recently, particularly his journeys as Iron Man, he seemed to be the right fit to play an eccentric animal doctor who goes on adventures. Well, he may have seemed like the right fit at first, but literally 30 second into his performance, with him speaking to the animals with gorilla and bird noises, I felt nothing but pure embarrassment for the rest of the runtime. He speaks in an inconsistent British accent, mumbling 1/3 of his lines, and going from chewing the scenery, to attempts at subtelty from one scene to the next. Apparently, Downey, Jr. was given free reign to do whatever he wanted with the character, and what an idiotic choice that was. He doesn’t sell any dramatic, emotional, or comedic moments, but the script gave him next to nothing to work with anyway. He’s better off doing drugs and waking up in stranger’s houses than starring in this. 
 
There’s no direction in the plot here. It kind of just goes from location to location, with no rhyme or reason, but nothing but contrivances along the way. Michael Sheen, with nothing to do here but stand on a ship and be snide, is their attempt to have some sort of antagonist, but he never feels like a threat and his defeat is the definition of anticlimactic. There’s another antagonist who’s only in two scenes, a kid who stands around, a kid who follows Dolittle around, and a Queen who’s literally asleep for 99% of the movie. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has anything to do here, even the voice cast, who are basically the big draw after Downey, Jr. we have a decent array of voice actors, some of them not too bad, and some not even trying at all. Most of them may as well have been on the phone with how little lines they had. The animals don’t really do anything either, and affect the plot in literally no way. They just kind of walk around and say the occasional cringeworthy one-liner. Look, I get the point of Doctor Dolittle is that he talks to animals, but when that’s literally all there is to this story, and nothing else, it’s just obnoxious and irritating. 
 
It shows from beginning to end that there’s a whole lot studio interference and production issues abound. After writer/director Stephen Gaghan turned in his first cut, Universal was not pleased with how seriously it took itself. So, they demanded more humor and more talking animals to appeal to the kiddos. There’s a load of obvious ADR here that was clearly added in during post-production. Downey, Jr.’s lips won’t match up to what he’s saying, and many of his lines have his mouth obscured or not on screen at all. You can also tell which animals were there originally and which ones were added during reshoots. Dolittle mostly interacts with the ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), a polar bear (John Cena), who can somehow live in a warm climate, a squirrel (Craig Robinson), and a gorilla (Rami Malek). Yeah, isn’t it sad reading all of those names? Other than those animals, he hardly talks to, or even looks at the rest of them. Most of them just wander around in the background, with the occasional cutaway to focus on them. It’s especially egregious and obvious with the giraffe (Selena Gomez) and fox (Marion Cotillard) picking up Tommy and taking him to Dolittle’s boat. Before this, Tommy tries to become his apprentice and Dolittle basically tells him to screw off. Then, for no reason, these animals decide to help him and we have, what I think was supposed to be an exciting action sequence, Tommy riding on a giraffe with arms wrapped around her neck. But you can tell he’s really not holding onto anything, his arms just floating around.
 
That’s only the start of the horrible effects. If you’re gonna have a movie with talking animals, then you better make sure the effects are convincing, which they are not at all here. The best-looking animals are probably the gorilla and ostrich, but even they just look like some high-quality video game characters. The rest range to off putting and downright cartoonish, making the entire world feel inconsistent. The weirdest thing is, is that it takes itself quite seriously and grounds itself as much as a talking animal movie can, but then we get a dragon randomly thrown in at the end (seems like a studio decision). This dragon, which looks like a Pixar version of Smaug, provides the big “climax” and you know what it is? The dragon wants to kill everybody who enters her lair because she’s upset from a stomachache. Then, Dolittle literally sticks his hands up the dragon’s rectum and begins pulling out human bones, armor, and then a bagpipe. This results in Dolittle getting blasted by an enormous fart and that’s it. That’s the climax to your story. The most insulting part is that the trailer shows this moment like Dolittle is being blown away by some big force, but nope, it’s just a fart. 
 
But, you know, Dolittle ending with a giant fart is the perfect analogy for this abysmal, desperate, embarrassing project: it’s just a ball of stinky gas that you want to get away from as soon as you possibly can. That’s how I felt while sitting in the theater. I have a principle of not walking out of a movie that I see in the theater, but I came close. I would have taken anything to get myself out of the theater. The projector breaking down, the building immediately closing, a brain aneurysm. Literally anything to keep myself from watching the rest of this movie. There have been plenty of terrible films over the years, but this is easily the most annoyed and miserable I’ve been inside a theater in I don’t know how long. Congratulations, everybody involved with Dolittle. We’re only three weeks in and I don’t see your film being topped for the worst to come out this year… or possibly even the decade. 
 
1/10 

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