A film review by Craig J. Koban January 31, 2020

DOLITTLE ½j

2020, PG, 101 mins.

 

Robert Downey Jr. as Dr. John Dolittle  /  Antonio Banderas as King Rassouli  /  Jessie Buckley as Queen Victoria  /  Michael Sheen as Dr. Blair Müdfly  /  Jim Broadbent as Lord Thomas Badgley  /  Harry Collett as Tommy Stubbins  /  Emma Thompson as Polynesia (voice)  /  Rami Malek as Chee-Chee (voice)  /  John Cena as Yoshi (voice)  /  Kumail Nanjiani as Plimpton (voice)  /  Octavia Spencer as Dab-Dab (voice)  /  Tom Holland as Jip (voice)  /  Craig Robinson as Fleming (voice)  /  Ralph Fiennes as Barry (voice)  /  Selena Gomez as Betsy (voice) /  Marion Cotillard as Tutu (voice)  /  Carmen Ejogo as Regine (voice)

Directed by Stephen Gaghan  /  Written by Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand
 

 

 

I've been hearing through the movie grapevine that DOLITTLE was a long gestating passion project for Robert Downey Jr..   

Okay, then.   

•••SPOILERS••• 

The ending of this film has a dragon massively farting into the actor's wide open mouth and eyes, followed by him shoving his hands up the same dragon’s ass and pulling out a set of bagpipes.

This piece of absolute wasteful trash cost $175 million to produce.

This was also RDJ's first feature film starring role since AVENGERS: ENDGAME. 

Let that settle in for a bit.

I stared at the screen in stunned disbelief throughout a majority of my screening of DOLITTLE, and if that didn't bother me enough the overwhelming sensation of silence in the crowd with me also pinpointed towards dire warning signs.  Since this is a family fantasy comedy, the lack of any filmgoer even modestly chuckling at anything in DOLITTLE is telling.  Perhaps most damming is, as mentioned, this represents Downey's first film since he exited the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  

This film.  

DOLITTLE.  

A remake of a remake of an adaptation of a book.  And it was shot years ago, then underwent nearly a month of reshoots, and then had its release changed not once, not twice, but three times, finally being unceremoniously dumped in the cinematic craptastic graveyard that is January.  

Oh, did I say that this film cost nearly $200 million to produce?  

I'm sure I did, but did you also know that it was co-written by Stephen Gaghan, the same man that wrote such "family friendly" classics like TRAFFIC and SYRIANA?  The original 1967 DOCTOR DOLITTLE was a legendary and spectacular flop (the just-okay 1998 Eddie Murphy remake of the same name, not so much).  History, as it always seems to, is repeating itself here with DOLITTLE.  This is a movie of unpardonable and borderline unwatchable wretchedness. 

 

 

This movie has just one good scene.  Honestly.  It's the animated opening sequence that introduces us to its version of Dolittle, a celebrated doctor that has a supernatural ability to communicate with any animal that walks, crawls, slithers, jumps, or flies on the planet.  In this montage we witness the opening of his sanctuary to take in the strays and injured of the world, but we also bare witness to the loss of his wife in Lily, and how that forever broke the man, leading him to a Howard Hughes-esque state of self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world.  The animation during all of this is superb, evoking the spirit and feel of a bedtime storybook.  It all comes depressingly crashing down, though, as soon as the film segues to live action and we first meet Dolittle.  

At this point, the whole enterprise begins a slow burn dive into the insufferable.

When we first meet Dolittle in the flesh he's anything but an inspired hero to the animal kingdom.  He looks thin, pale, bearded, and thoroughly out of it, kind of akin to Tom Hanks in CASTWAY after being secluded on that island alone for years.  He hates people in general and loathes any contact with them, much more preferring to pass time with his menagerie of animals that reside with him on the preserve.  We get most of the expositional details from a voiceover narration provided by a parrot (Emma Thompson), which comes off pathetically like the end result of some hasty, last minute creative changes, but it also painfully reminded me of the fact that Downey and Thompson have multiple Oscar nominations between the two of them...and they - alongside a plethora of other Oscar nominees and other A-listers - decided to sign the dotted contract line to appear here.  

How.  Utterly.  Sad.

We then move on to the basics of this already malnourished plot, which involves Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) serving as an emissary for Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley), the latter of which is dying via a mysterious illness and requires immediate attention and care.  She believes that there is indeed a cure that - yup! - only Dolittle can locate and retrieve.  Of course, the longstanding hermit wants none of it, only begrudgingly coaxed into the task by Rose and a new ally in Stubbins (Harry Collett), who eventually becomes Robin to Dolittle's Batman.  Within no time, Dolittle, Stubbins, and his animal clan - including a nervous gorilla (Rami Malek, another Oscar winner here!), a sarcastic ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani, another Oscar nominee here!), and a buff polar bear (John Cena, definitely not an Oscar nominee or winner) - set sale to seek out the Queen's cure, but there are traitors in the Royal Palace that want to see Dolittle fail and the Queen die (played by Michael Sheen and Jim Broadbent, both - sigh! - Oscar nominees as well).  Oh wait, Dolittle does have a chance meeting on his journey with King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas, a recent Oscar nominee!), who hates the doctor because of past indiscretions, leading him to unleash his pet tiger (Ralph Fiennes, another...you see a pattern here?) to take him out.

I said that there was only one good scene in DOLITTLE.  I lied.  The other good scene involves Dolittle crafting a makeshift laser pointer by reflecting sunlight on the ground to distract the man-hungry tiger from devouring him.  That was funny.  And cute.  But the rest of this film is so utterly bereft of genuine warmth, humor, and charm that I honestly struggled to stay awake while watching - make that enduring - the story unfold.  Now, the idea of having an actor of Downey's limitless charismatic stature play an eccentric man that can talk to animals is intriguing, to say the least.  Alas, something was just...off...in the marketing of DOLITTLE, seeing as there were few instances of hearing the titular character speak in the trailers.  After watching the final product, I understand why.  Not only does a majority of his dialogue seem to be the product of an awful lot of post-production ADR, but the actor sports one of the most gruff, monosyllabic, and annoyingly idiosyncratic and non-region specific accents I've ever heard in a movie.  A follower of mine of Twitter told me that RDJ was utilizing a Welsh accent here, but you could have fooled me; Dolittle sounds like Jack Sparrow meets Sherlock Holmes, only infinitely more mumbly, raspy, and impossible to understand.  Downey has made a career out of playing loveable ego-driven misfits that go against the grain, but in DOLITTLE he plays less an affable rogue than he does lazily inhabit a misanthropic weirdo without any vitality whatsoever.  The actor has never given such an embarrassing performance in a mainstream film before.

Of course, it can't be overstated more that no actor - not even of Downey's iconic stature in the industry - could have saved such a massive turd as this that deserved to be thoroughly flushed and forgotten about.  The evidence of production delays, on-set problems, editing, and, yes, the well documented re-shoots rear their ugly heads throughout.  The narrative is all over the place without much of a cohesive road map, some subplots appear and disappear at will, whereas individual scenes seem choppily edited and truncated, evoking an unmistakable sense that a lot of what was filmed was carelessly tossed away.  I'm sure that a lion's share of this film's budget went into paying for Downey and the visual effects, the latter of which range from serviceable to fine.  Still, all the flashy eye candy in the world can't make up for the multiple - too many to count - creative sins of this criminally wrongheaded and bloated family fantasy that represents one of the worst examples of misappropriation of multiple talent than I can recently recall.  And when this film culminated with that dragon bare assed farting into Iron Man's deer-in-the-headlights face I slumped into my cinema chair in a state of pure disdain.  If studios heads think that family films should include the probing of a mythical beast's colon performed by one of the greatest actors of his generation, then clearly the industry requires an innovation enema.    

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