Thursday, January 30, 2020

Movie Review: "Dolittle" (2020)

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

One hundred years ago, author Hugh Lofting introduced Doctor Dolittle to the world with his long titled book "The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts," which would be followed by over a dozen other titles featuring the character. The story has been adapted into numerous films and animated features, the most notable of which is the 1967 musical starring Rex Harrison as the titular Dolittle, which was unbelievably nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Next was the 1998 modern reimagining of the story featuring Eddie Murphy as the famed Doctor. Now, in the year 2020, Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., takes over the role in a period piece family adventure film called "Dolittle," written in part and directed by Stephen Gaghan. Gaghan is an odd choice to direct this family-friendly film since he is best known for making heavy-hitting political dramas like "Traffic" and "Syriana." We've seen directors seamlessly transition into making kids movies before (George Miller, to name one), so never say never!
Robert Downey Jr. questions his life choices after playing Dr. John Dolittle in Universal's "Dolittle" (2020).
Robert Downey Jr. questions his life choices after playing Dr. John Dolittle in Universal's "Dolittle" (2020). (Image Source)
The story begins with an animated sequence introducing Doctor Dolittle to the audience, telling us stories of the great adventures he had with his wife, an explorer so brave and so great that we can't even remember her name. It turns out, Wife vanished and most likely died on an adventure where Dolittle was not with her (although no shipwrecked corpse is seen, so we don't believe it). Dolittle has since become a recluse, shutting himself off from the human world while his only companions are the animals he keeps on his nature reserve. One day, Dolittle is contacted by a girl named Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), who tells him he has been summoned by Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley), who has mysteriously fallen ill. If the Queen dies, the royal decree that protects Dolittle's home and the animals on it will die with her. Dolittle reluctantly agrees to examine the Queen and quickly determines she has ingested some sort of toxin. Dolittle must go on a quest to find an antidote, so he, his animal compatriots, and a little kid named Stubbins (Harry Collett), who accidentally shot a squirrel, go on an adventure to find the medicine to cure the Queen.
Harry Collett and Robert Downey Jr. are on a boat in a movie still for "Dolittle."
Stubbins (Harry Collett) forces John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) and his animals to take him with him on an adventure out to sea in the movie "Dolittle." (Image Source)
Full disclosure, we haven't liked a single adaptation of "Doctor Dolittle." We think that the 1967 film is one of the worst Best Picture nominees of all time, and we can't really remember much about Eddie Murphy's version of the story. That being said, we had high hopes for "Dolittle" (2020) considering the ridiculous amount of talented actors involved in this project. It is loaded with Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning celebrities. Eight of the actors in this film have been nominated for Academy Awards, and five of them are winners. Stephen Gaghan is also an Oscar-winning screenwriter, though as we mentioned, it was for a very different type of film. Hollywood is ripe with successful, enjoyable family adventure flicks like "The Princess Bride," the "Harry Potter" movies, and even the underseen and underappreciated "The Kid Who Would Be King" from last year. We were hoping we could add "Dolittle" to that list, hoping that it might be something fantastical, fun, and full of wonder. Instead, what we get is a ridiculously stupid "comedy" complete with a pratfalling ostrich, an annoyingly vindictive squirrel, a duck with a running gag featuring various vegetables, and a constipated dragon that farts in Dolittle's face for no less than 25 seconds. The humor is targeted to the most juvenile members of the audience, and it didn't work for us at all. We have been known to enjoy a well-placed fart joke, and we figured that since Gaghan is an Oscar-winning scribe and all, surely he could come up with something more amusing than "I think Doctor Dolittle did a little doo-doo." BigJ managed to chuckle maybe once or twice, though admittedly, they were laughs of bewilderment rather than guffaws at actual jokes. It's not just the gags that are poorly written. The story is a jumbled mess full of contrived plot points and ill-fitting, goofy shenanigans that force the story along for 102 minutes rather than letting it flow naturally. You know what the target audience of "Dolittle" definitely won't understand? References to "Rush Hour" and "The Godfather"! That's poorly written script 101: if all else fails, add pop culture references! All of these problems come before you factor in Robert Downey Jr. Oh, Robert, Robert, Robert...what the hell are you doing?! Robert Downey Jr's. performance is baffling and bad and bafflingly bad. He's dreadfully miscast here. It's as if Robert Downey Jr. is playing Johnny Depp playing Jack Sparrow playing Doctor Dolittle. His accent, which he swears up and down is Welsh (we would have never guessed this in a million years) is distractingly bothersome. It honestly sounds like he's putting on a bad British accent and then layering it with an offensively stereotypical Indian accent. It's not charming, it's not funny, and it's certainly not effective.
Tom Holland, John Cena, and Academy Award-winning actors Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, and Emma Thompson voice a dog, a polar bear, a monkey, a gorilla, and a parrot in the 2020 film "Dolittle."
Tom Holland, John Cena, and Academy Award-winning actors Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, and Emma Thompson are in it for the paycheck by voicing various animals in the 2020 film "Dolittle." (Image Source)
It's difficult to process how a movie with this much talent and a $175 million budget could be this wretched. It is genuinely upsetting to think about all of the projects that did not get funded by Universal because they decided that a third adaptation of Doctor Dolittle would be well received by audiences in the year 2020. It wasn't a good idea, and it has not been well received. "Dolittle" is an absolute chore to watch. Family films are supposed to be enjoyed by the whole family, not just the littlest kids in the room, which is part of the reason why it fails so hard. Admittedly, we're not this movie's target audience. Maybe kids, especially youngsters who like poopie-doo-doo jokes, will enjoy this. Still, we can't help but feel terrible for the poor parents who have to take their younglings to see this poorly acted, awfully put together garbage fire of a film. It's just another example of how a middling director like Stephen Gaghan gets a massive check and carte blanche to make whatever horrible and forced hell movie he wants while up-and-coming directors with new, diverse ideas and fresh takes are sidelined and have to pay for his poor choices. Universal had the chance to do better, and instead, they did "Dolittle."

My Rating: 1/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.6/10
RT Rating: 16%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

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