Directed by #StephenGaghan
Film review by Nathanial Eker
It seems old dogs can’t learn new tricks, or rather new remakes can’t hold old audiences. Dolittle is a star-studded pigsty that wastes a dream cast with every foul snort; a reboot that I can only assume hordes of PETA fans have been anxiously waiting for. Its script is diabolical, its music forgettable, and its performances dull. The cat’s out of the bag; Dolittle is a one trick pony. And its trick is being a bad film.
Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr) is a vet with the unusual ability to communicate with animals. When his wife dies at sea, he secludes himself in his beastly paradise, far away from Victorian society. However, when a young boy (Harry Collett) stumbles into his world bearing a wounded squirrel (Craig Robinson), Dr. Dolittle must come out of retirement and undertake a globe-trotting adventure with his rag tag crew of crazy creatures.
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room - Robert Downey Jr, and more specifically, that baffling Welsh accent. Though a unique choice of lead nationality, this bizarre inflection requires Downey to speak in a low, husky tone throughout to maintain verisimilitude. That accent is the least of his problems however, as Director Stephen Gaghan delivers his vision with such a whimper that even Iron Man himself is somehow unfocused, voiceless, and just a bit of a meanie. For an actor who’s usually a joy to watch for his chameleon-like charm, it’s really an achievement of Gaghan to direct such a woefully misinformed performance.
The supporting cast offers little respite. With the exception of Ralph Fiennes as a bitter tiger with mummy issues and the always hilarious Craig Robinson as a vengeful squirrel, every animal voice feels suspiciously like they’re rushing to the pay check at the end of the tunnel. Worse than any furry friend however, is Harry Collett as young Stubbins, who turns in perhaps the worst tween performance in recent memory. Scuttling onto screen with a gormless gawk, he reacts to every bit of action, emotional beat, or plot twist with utter unbelievability and spends most of his time blurting out the blindingly obvious. The inexcusable waste of Jim Broadbent and Antonio Banderas is just the icing on the fish-cake.
Hold your horses. To give credit where due, the film’s colourful visual style does offer some ingenuity and takes the lion’s share of favourable criticism. It’s pleasing to see a return to the period adventure genre a la Pirates of the Caribbean; this timeless aesthetic combined with a stylised mise-en-scené presents a myriad of opportunity for gregarious visuals and retro renaissance era props and sets. Equally, Gaghan’s decision to distance this tale from the modern sit-com style of the Eddie Murphy films by metamorphosing it into a fairy-tale more faithful to its original source material is welcome. This whimsical approach is most prominently exemplified by a gorgeous animated sequence that begins the movie promisingly, before it almost immediately degrades into lion mess.
Besides these small nests of imagination, however, Dolittle offers few reasons to call itself man’s best friend. Its narrative is absurdly incoherent as it leaps from scene to scene faster than a monkey to a banana, sometimes lazily resorting to a painfully sloppy voiceover. More rogue than the narrative, however, is the cringe-inducing dialogue that’ll make any self-respecting ostrich dunk their head with embarrassment. Exposition is delivered with wince inducing frequency and I really thought we were past ‘huge fart in man’s face’ jokes by 2020.
Gaghan’s use of the camera fares little better, as his unnecessary zooms frequently call to mind the work of J.J Abrams, in the worst way possible. Even Danny Elfman proves a leopard can change its spots, as his score is uncharacteristically forgettable. An adventure film should soar with excitement, but through a combination of elements that almost all independently miss the mark, this wild waste of time scuttles along for 101 minutes with painfully predictable storytelling.
Dolittle makes a total monkey’s uncle of its audience. Though depressing that it needs emphasising; films aimed at children are capable of crafting mature storylines and clever jokes. You need only look at the likes of Up, Shrek, or Toy Story for proof; Dolittle barely deserves to share the same sentence as these classics. With a woefully misused cast, an appalling script, and a miraculously dreadful lead performance from the king of charisma himself, it falls like a hunted beast on every front.
The lion will be sleeping through this one tonight. Dolittle will make you mad as a hornet. This franchise has gone to the dogs. I could go on.
AND I WILL.
Dolittle won’t be winning best in show. This is one prey that deserves to go to the predators. Do yourself a favour and don’t throw this dog a box office bone.