Let me say this first. This movie IS NOT as bad as all the critics are saying. The pull-quotes I’ve seen from various critics do crack me up, but it’s not fair. This film isn’t as bad as CATS (yet it’s getting a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than CATS). In fact, it won’t come anywhere near my worst of the year list. Now, don’t take that for a ringing endorsement. The movie is flawed. But it’s a light-hearted kids flick. View it from that perspective and…I think most families that go to see it won’t be disappointed.
I only saw bits of the 1967 version of Dr. Dolittle (Rex Harrison) on TV as a kid, and it didn’t do much for me. I never watched the 1998 version with Eddie Murphy. That’s the first movie the comedic legend from SNL did…that started him down his wretched path of horrible comedies that he just did for paychecks.
Robert Downey, Jr. certainly doesn’t need the paycheck. He made over $100 million on the last Avengers movie alone. So I was hoping he’d go back to some of the interesting style of films he did earlier in his career (Chaplin, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Less Than Zero, The Singing Detective, or even underrated romantic-comedies like Chances Are and Home for the Holidays). Instead, Downey decided to channel Johnny Depp (with a dash of Christopher Lloyd), with wild hair and a Scottish accent, that at times was Irish, or maybe Welsh, and act all bizarre as Dolittle. The studio went all bizarre by probably spending well over $100 million on the budget/special effects.
I’m not sure how much this movie reflects the Hugh Lofting children’s books from the 1920s.
It’s odd that writer/director Stephen Gaghan, who gave us Rules of Engagement, Syriana, and Traffic, was tapped to do this version. And you wonder what was going through his mind as he did the third fart joke of the film (one involving a dragon might only be humorous to 7-year-olds). A lot of this feels like lazy writing, but…that doesn’t mean some of the jokes don’t land. Every time an ostrich, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani speaks, my wife and I were laughing. And Emma Thompson was clever as the parrot. And having a gorilla that suffers from anxiety and is afraid of everything…kind of works. Voiced by Freddie Mercury himself — Mr. Rami Malek. It’s just a shame that such a talented cast isn’t quite as interesting as they should be. You have Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Marion Cotillard, and Craig Robinson. That’s a lot of Oscar nominees (and remember, Downey himself had a few nominations over the years). That’s not even counting the humans in it — Jim Broadbent (who plays such a regal royal), Michael Sheen (who was a bit cartoonish as a villain); Antonio Banderas is a decent villain. Jessie Buckley, who got a lot of attention playing an Irish singer in Wild Rose, isn’t given a lot to do but lay in bed dying, waiting for Doolittle to travel across the seas to find the antidote to save her.
The boy who lives with a family of hunters, and feels guilty about accidentally shooting a squirrel…is perfectly cast and likable, without being too precious.
It’s amazing to me that critics are being positive for the latest Bad Boys movie (which is awful), and they’re tearing this film apart. While it’s far from a great, it wasn’t painful to sit through (although at almost two and a half hours long, the young ones might not have enough fart jokes to get them through).
2 stars out of 5.