Film Review - Dolittle

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dr. John Dolittle, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. (right) with Jip, voiced by Tom Holland, in a scene from “Dolittle.”

I usually try to avoid checking out other critics’ reviews because I don’t want to accidentally steal someone else’s thoughts. There’s a YouTube movie critic I check out occasionally, though, because he’s the ultimate fanboy. That’s both good and bad. His name is Jeremy Jahns, and one of his ratings for movies is “a good time, no alcohol required.”

“Dolittle” is not one of those movies.

“Iron Man” re-energized Robert Downey Jr.’s career. It also made him a household name to a lot of movie viewers, including me. I’d seen RDJ films in the past, but “Iron Man” truly created a fan out of me. The parallels to RDJ’s own troubled life were definitely present and seeing him come back to stardom was a bit inspiring. I became a fan all over again.

“Dolittle” is RDJ’s return to the screen after 2019’s epic, earth-shattering and a little heartbreaking “Avengers: Endgame.” For more than a decade, RDJ had filled the shoes of Tony Stark, and it was brilliant. How do you follow that up?

You play a veterinarian/lunatic who talks to animals and avoids showers.

There’s a lot of moving pieces in this plot, but it’s also fairly straightforward. Dr. Dolittle is called upon to save the animals on his estate and the Queen of England from a mysterious poisoning. His journey sends him to am undiscovered island with a tree that bears a magical fruit because basically it’s the botanical Fountain of Youth. Hijinks ensue.

OK, there’s a little bit more than that, but none of it is overly interesting. Dolittle has been a recluse for years, secluding himself and his animal friends after his beloved wife died on a tragic voyage to discover this same mystical tree. He’s also got a sidekick named Stubbins (Tommy Collett), who stumbles across Dolittle after he shoots a squirrel and needs veterinary help.

Stubbins isn’t the only side character. You also see the dastardly Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen) and Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent) — equally dastardly — both hellbent on making sure the queen dies. Unfortunately for them, Dolittle isn’t “kitten” around when it comes to this mission. Sorry, I had to try and be as clever as this film. (Spoiler: We both failed.)

I understand RDJ wanting to do something whimsical and fluffy after being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for more than a decade. “Dolittle” is a film his kids can see, and his wife, Susan, is a producer on the film, as well. It’s a family thing, all the way around.

What I don’t understand is how they managed to convince any of these other A-list celebrities to be a part. Emma Thompson. Rami Malek. Tom Holland. Octavia Spencer. There are a slew of folks in this movie that are better than this and should have their pick of roles. Ralph Fiennes. Marion Cotillard. Kumail Nanjiani. I could go on. Granted, there are also folks in this film who make perfect sense, like John Cena, Selena Gomez and Antonio Banderas, but I digress.

“Dolittle” is based on classic children’s literature by Hugh Lofting. It’s a character we’ve seen on film a few times, portrayed by Rex Harrison in 1967 and again by Eddie Murphy in the late ’90s.

Downey is fine. He’s unintelligible at times because of his accent. (We’re pretty certain it’s an attempt at Scottish.) His Dolittle isn’t a memorable character. But, none of the film is going to be memorable. It’s a disjointed mess that doesn’t have a clear direction in storyline or design.

Maybe part of that is due to director Stephen Gaghan, who is also one of FIVE people credited with writing the screen play/story. Five, y’all. Gaghan, by the way, isn’t a familiar face when it comes to family films. His past credits include “Traffic,” “Syriana” and other dark, adult films. Not sure how he ended up with “Dolittle.”

The film also suffered from major reshoots at the hands of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” director Jonathan Liebesman and Chris McKay, director of “The Lego Batman Movie.” You’ve heard the old adage about too many cooks in the kitchen, right? I’m not sure if that’s what happened here, or if it was simply a matter of an inexperienced dishwasher trying to create a five-course meal, but the result was the equivalent of your mama making a stew out of everything in the fridge that’s about to expire.

This film could have been magical. All the pieces were there. Great source material, RDJ and a fantastic cast, and a studio willing to create top-notch special effects. Instead, we got RDJ looking a bit bored most of the film, flatulence jokes and something else. It’s a missed opportunity, and I’m not sure that history will remember this one. In fact, I’ve already began to forget it only a few days later.

Amanda Greever is a former editor, designer and writer at The Daily Times. She now works in public relations. Contact her at amandagreever@gmail.com.

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