Dan's Review: "Dolittle" an Awkward, Cringeworthy Experience
Jan 16, 2020 05:37PM
● By Dan Metcalf
Robert Downey Jr. in in Dolittle - © 2020 Universal.
Rated PG for some action, rude humor and brief language.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jessie Buckley, Jim Broadbent, Ralph Ineson, Joanna Page, Kasia Smutniak, Carmel Laniado, Sonny Ashbourne Serkis, (voices of) Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Carmen Ejogo, Jason Mantzoukas, Frances de la Tour.
Written by Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, and Thomas Shepherd, based on the children's book series by Hugh Lofting.
Directed by Stephen Gaghan.
Success has a way of tricking people. Some performers believe their great triumphs makes them bulletproof to a degree and that their fans will love them and remain loyal no matter what content they produce. I’m not sure if that’s what Robert Downey, Jr. was thinking when he signed up for Dolittle sometime between the Avengers finale movies, but it seems hubris may have been in play for one of the most successful actors of our time. I mention this because of the sharp disparity in quality between Avengers: End Game and Dolittle is steep and immediate, and it’s one heckuva mess.
Downey plays the title character, Dr. John Dolittle, a British veterinarian living in the 1800s who can speak with animals. In the film’s prelude, we learn that Dolittle was given a large estate as an animal sanctuary/hospital in the English countryside by the Queen (Jessie Buckley), was once married to Lily (Kasia Smutniak) and rescues a host of imperiled animals who live with him and communicate as friends. Those animals include a parrot named Polly (Emma Thomson), a polar bear named Yoshi (John Cena), a gorilla named Chee-Chee (Rami Malek), a duck named Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), an ostrich named Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani), and a spectacle-wearing dog named Jip (Tom Holland). Throughout the film, Dolittle also converses with animals voiced by Ralph Fiennes, Selena, Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Carmen Ejogo, and Jason Mantzoukas. The story begins after Lily dies, sending Dolittle into a depressed state of isolation inside the compound until a young lad named Stubbins (Harry Collett) accidentally shoots a squirrel named Kevin (Craig Robinson) and brings it to the doctor for healing. Dolittle reluctantly saves Kevin right before the teenaged Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) arrives to summon the doctor to Buckingham Palace, where the queen is dying from a mysterious illness. With the help of the animals, Dolittle discovers that the queen has been poisoned and that the only antidote can be located on a faraway island. He agrees to go on a sea voyage with the animals in hope of getting the antidote. He is pursued by the evil Doctor Müdfly (Michael Sheen) one of Dolittle’s rivals who may be behind the plot to poison the queen, along with Lord Badgley (Jim Broadbent). Dolittle’s voyage takes him to the island of the pirate king Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who happens to be the deceased Lily’s dad. After barely escaping death at the hands of Rassouli, Dolittle and the animals arrive at the secret Island, where they encounter Müdfly and a dragon.
Dolittle is an awkward, confusing mess of a movie, and in no small part because of Downey’s performance. His phony British (I think) accent is cumbersome and conspicuous, which is even more annoying due to the way he whispers his dialogue throughout the entire movie. Making matters worse is the realization that words you can barely decipher from Downey’s strange utterance emanate from an equally awful and humorless script.
Most of the so-called humor of Dolittle relies heavily on bad animal puns, potty humor and ethnic stereotypes combined with the less-than-impressive computer-generated animal characters. The result is a cringeworthy affair that makes you wonder what Downey was thinking when he considered how he would follow up to his long triumph as Iron Man. His reputation may not be entirely tarnished but Dolittle makes us feel like it’s already getting a little rusty.