Dolittle is a wildly incompetent movie showcasing a battle for the crown to be the film’s silliest performer. So, who wins? Well, I’m afraid, it’s a 20-way tie shared between scenery-chewing in-person performers and aloof voice actors.
The film is headlined by Robert Downey Jr. as the titular animal doctor who has the incredible ability to speak fluently to his patients using intricate, individual languages. At least, that’s the lore of the character the audience is privy to before watching this retelling. In Dolittle, this ability is botched under the direction of Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Gold). Gaghan exposes an odd contrast between untranslated conversations and articulate exchanges. The former is baffling, and the latter is confusing considering animals can also talk to each other. It’s also revealed that this talent can be easily picked up by young people and fumbling amateurs, as exhibited by Dolittle’s clumsy protégé Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett).
Dolittle ruins its imagination by showing too much of it. For example, choosing to practically animate every single animal is a bad call. They start resembling cartoons with rubbery functions, and their assigned celebrity fails to provide any personality. Except for Jason Mantzoukas’ dragonfly which is nothing but personality, but this is an erratic character that’s now classified as rote for the comedian. Downey Jr.’s bizarre performance, which includes a blended accent of incomprehensible European stereotypes, molds an intelligent underdog into an empty-headed eccentric. It’s a performance that hasn’t been edited enough, and only cares about being overtly weird to earn cheap laughs.
Dolittle also doesn’t have the integrity to tell a thorough story. The film’s frequent use of shortcuts is a disappointing choice, especially when communicating how easy it is to travel across sea somewhere, and an unsatisfying final act doesn’t give proper comeuppance to its villain nor a proper win for the hero and his loyal friends. It’s all summed up with a slew of quick edits and a lame gross-out gag that would underwhelm any bathroom humour enthusiast.
The promotional material for Dolittle had no clue how to sell the movie to an audience and, after watching this mess, I feel for the marketing team. After reflecting on Dolittle’s trailer, I actually have to give that team props. While overplayed, the trailer gave the film emotional beats. But, in several staggering and jarring ways, Dolittle doesn’t carry any feeling whatsoever. This is a very, very strange animal.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie