Dolittle is a befuddling and bewildering mess that’s barely passable for kids and nearly unwatchable for grownups. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan 175 million is filled with failed attempts at nostalgia and narrative that doesn’t seem to have an identity. Are we a comedy? Are we an action movie? It’s hard even to make heads or tails our this release. At one point, we are dealing with the grief on Dolittle losing his one true love, and then we are dealing with his newly formed phobia centering around interactions with humans. Have I mentioned that somehow Dragons are involved in this as well? It’s almost as if they said: “let’s try all of this” … and none of it worked“. Now yes, the idea of watching Animals talking and hitting one obvious punchline after another will resonate with little kids. Still, even after a bit, the kids weren’t laughing during those moments of the screening.
The storyline of this version of Dolittle is similar to its predecessor but with a few slight twists. The film begins with the good doctor being in mourning after the death of his one true love at sea. Instead of seeking help, he decided to shut the door of the very sanctuary which the Queen had given him years ago. He’s brought out of retirement at the request of the queen, who, on her death bed, calls upon the one man who can save her.
Robert Downey Jr.’s performance was this mixture of accents. At certain points, he sounded Scottish and at other times he seemed English. It was this mixture of dialects that became more a distraction than anything which could have enhanced the overall experience of the film. If Doolittle was striving for a more exotic feel to it then why not just the good doctor be from America living in England. Doing this at the very least would have taken some of the focus off of his ridiculous attempt at being exotic.
Dolittle also relied way too much upon “fart” jokes. Once, they would have been fine but sprinkling them throughout the film just diluted the punchline to a point where no one in the audience cared. As for the actual storyline, it’s hard to even develop a rational reason for what occurred with Dolittle. Gaghan starts the story off in one direction involving the good doctor’s seclusion and how the circumstances of one confused boy and a queen on her death bed brought him out from behind the gate. Now, had the film turned into this quest to find a way to save her, then the film would have made more sense but in the midst of the first act, we splinter off into this other plot point involving a plot to kill the queen and a jealous colleague of the good doctor. This killed any momentum we had built and took the film in this other direction. Then just as we feel a bit settled into this direction Dolittle took, we now apparently have to travel to an island that’s mystical which can’t be found on a map but can be found in his late wife’s journal which can only be acquired in the heavily guarded treasure room of his ex-father-in-law. With every direction, this film takes, it just gets that much convoluted.
Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography didn’t do this film any favors. Any chance they had to pan a shot and capture the beauty of their surroundings, the camera went in tight. Rather than feeling any connection with these characters, we merely accepted their presence, and that’s about all. While Downey Jr looked believable as the good doctor, the antagonists, Sheen, and Banderas, came off as comical. Sheen spends most of the movie with an oversized black goatee, and Banderas looks more punk than some vicious king. While I understand it’s a kid’s movie, but even that has its limits.
The performances in the film were okay, given the source material. Had the Gaghan crafted a narrative more in line with the original and not so different, we might have had a better outcome. But this mixture of elements just became a little too much to bear.