Dolittle (aka The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
As almost the mediocre mascot for the January movie season, one could speculate that Dolittle feels soulless given that Robert Downey Jr. looks so muted in the poster and the trailer for the film. That usually happens with films the actors don’t feel as invested in, especially if they’re supposed to be in a fun adventure film. Sure enough, RDJ seems to check out of the movie, phoning in an accent with much mumbling I’m not entirely sure if he’s going for Scottish. But it becomes pretty clear that almost everyone was out to lunch when it came to this messy adventure.
The film is off to a decent start with an animated intro to how Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) was granted a massive estate where he could treat the animals he could talk to. Cool, so it’s not an origin story. In fact, there’s some compelling pathos when he loses his wife at sea and closes up shop. Maybe something can inspire him to get out of his funk. That inspiration, unfortunately, comes less from the plucky boy who answers his door and more from the dying Queen of England. If she dies, the contract for the estate expires. And if that expires, all of Dolittle’s animal friends will have to fend for themselves in an era of hunters. So Dolittle needs to save the block more than saving the queen, even though that’s his quest.
Discovering that the queen is poisoned, Dolittle sets off on a journey to a mysterious island for a mysterious fruit that will mysteriously cure the queen. His adventure comes so mundanely predictable and so quickly that there’s little time to get to know Dolittle, his boy apprentice, or any of his animal sidekicks (all voiced by celebrities with standard one-liners). He is pursued by a villainous general played by Michael Sheen in a mustache for twirling and your standard bad-guy quirks. He makes a stop at the palace of king played by Antonio Banderas who mostly phones in his intimidation and emotion to never come off too scary for the kids (or interesting). Jim Broadbent also plays a royal that’s conspiring to kill the queen but he’s such a bookend of a villain that I doubt anyone really cares if Dolittle bests him.
It doesn’t take long to notice that this movie was most likely savaged in the editing room. Notice how fast scenes go by with little establishment and exposition rambled so fast you’d have to jot down notes if you really care about the specifics of the MacGuffin plot. Silly animal sequences, elaborate as they may be, never come off silly enough as celebrities put on mild comedy. John Cena voices a polar bear afraid of the cold but I could just feel him shrugging for a character who doesn’t have much mileage with such a gag. Kumail Nanjiani voices a nervous ostrich. Emma Thompson plays a leading mother figure of a parrot who confers with Dolittle most. Ralph Fiennes voices an evil tiger who, even when armed with a brilliant bit about being insecure, never impresses.
But what’s perhaps most peculiar about this film is that it features an insane climax that doesn’t quite feel as ludicrous as it could’ve been. In order to acquire the legendary fruit, Dolittle must quell an angry dragon. His solution is to perform emergency colon surgery on the dragon. And, yes, this means a fart joke is on the way. Surprisingly, not very funny.
Even with brisk editing at under 100 minutes, Dolittle is still a slow crawl of a picture for how little of the manic moments entertain. Kids will probably dig a few of the funny scenes but I doubt much of the frantic nature will make them remember much. I even doubt they’ll recall the dragon fart.