Dolittle

Review by Charles Bramesco @intothecrevasse

Directed by

Stephen Gaghan

Starring

Antonio Banderas Michael Sheen Robert Downey Jr

Anticipation.

Robert Downey Jr has made it out of the MCU in one piece.

Enjoyment.

In a sense, this qualifies as animal cruelty.

In Retrospect.

Ah, sweet Dab-Dab, we hardly knew ye.

Robert Downey Jr takes on the famous literary physician with predictably disastrous results.

What is it about Dolittle, Stephen Gaghan’s vehicle for the good doctor capable of conversing with animals, that compelled Robert Downey Jr to take his first non-Iron Man role in six years? The obvious answer would be “money,” but surely no shortage of handsomely-paid offers have crossed his desk over the years, meaning that there must be something special about this one.

This is the beguiling mystery a viewer turns over while waiting for Dolittle’s excruciatingly long 102 minutes to pass, a more engaging mental occupation than the dirge of manufactured sentimentality and excruciating unfunniness onscreen.

Perhaps something about the incongruous, mature new backstory assigned to the literary icon – his wife died at sea, leading him to cut himself off from the world until his four-legged friends teach him how to love again – lured Downey to the gig. It’s possible that he wanted to give his seven- and five-year-old children something they could enjoy as a family. Or maybe he just really, really wanted to pull a bagpipe out of a computer-generated dragon’s impacted anus.

That’s the most memorable scene in a film otherwise defined by its lack thereof, a work completely bereft of the warmth and wit that made the Rex Harrison pictures a delight and the Eddie Murphy iteration mostly agreeable. As a unit of narrative, it simply does not cohere; the script forces Dolittle into the mould of a derring-do adventurer instead of an eccentric veterinarian, and the mission he undertakes (some mumbo-jumbo to do with a poisoned princess) has zero sense of stakes for us or for him. When he finally retrieves the magic fruit that cures comas or whatever, it comes as an insistent reminder that this all was not, technically, pointless.

The menagerie of mouthy mammals should provide the diversion that’s always been this property’s real main event, but Noah himself would’ve kicked these wretched beasts off the Ark. There’s the basket case gorilla Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), who defiantly declares “I’m not a prisoner of fear!” during a lively fight scene. After overcoming a challenge through the power of friendship, the upbeat dragonfly James (Jason Mantzoukas) cheers, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

The film’s concept of comedy never exceeds mid-’90s zingers like “that’s got to hurt,” or Rush Hour references lost on the intended audience. In the lone exception, Octavia Spencer voices a duck named Dab-Dab who cannot tell stalk vegetables apart from medical equipment. It is a passably humorous bit. At one point, she announces her arrival by crying “Dabs is here!” and if only for a moment, the displeasure of this viewing experience is dulled.

That provides but a brief reprieve from a long, intense bout of tedium bound to seed resentment for their children in even the most accommodating, patient parents. Insider reports marred the release of Gaghan’s latest with accounts of extensive reshoots and tinkering at the executive level, and while the quality of having been messed with is indeed palpable, one still can’t quite perceive the movie everyone involved thought they were making. A garbled nothing, it fails even in the proper execution of its own bad ideas.

For Downey Jr, this is all probably in good fun. He shows up to set on time, pretends a tennis ball on a stick is a squirrel, cashes his cheque, takes the kids out on one of presumably several boats. As for the rest of us, we actually have to watch this cinematic fart, a breakage of artistic wind more eye-wateringly pungent than the gust of intestinal air loosed into Dr Dolittle’s face as he struggles to relieve the aforementioned dragon’s rectum.

Published 22 Jan 2020

Tags: Doolittle Robert Downey Jr Stephen Gaghan

Anticipation.

Robert Downey Jr has made it out of the MCU in one piece.

Enjoyment.

In a sense, this qualifies as animal cruelty.

In Retrospect.

Ah, sweet Dab-Dab, we hardly knew ye.

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