January has a lot of low-hanging-fruit that is super easy to dismiss. Often, the years worst films premiere in this month as the world doesn’t seem to go to the movies. The films of January’s past often get left behind. So when Robert Downey, Jr.’s latest star vehicle Dolittle set its release date, many were nervous. But hey, RDJ made Iron Man a viable film franchise, and spurned Hollywood’s most successful IP to date. It isn’t a forgone conclusion that January was indicative of quality right? Not necessarily. Dolittle isn’t The Bye Bye Man or any other bad early year release. Still, it also isn’t The Standoff at Sparrow Creek or even a film it opened against, Bad Boys For Life. In fact, it’s pretty harmless family entertainment. However, that doesn’t mean its good.
Downey brings his talents to this project, directed by Stephen Gaghan who’s writing credits include the Oscar-nominated Steven Soderbergh masterpiece, Traffic. It’s troubled road to big screen has been well documented. After poor test screenings, following principal photography which began in early 2018, the film endured 21 days of reshoots. Reshoots often can be good, in fact most giant movies have them built into the schedule. The producers weren’t getting what they wanted in this case however, and more hands were brought into the project.
For such a terrific cast and talent involved behind the camera, Dolittle is a nothing burger, full of wasted potential. Lacking any kind of smart storytelling and often opting for fart jokes, Gaghan’s film clearly has some issues. Some of the voice performances are fun, and the moments with the animals could be described as cute. Most of the time, however, Dolittle feels like it was slapped together after things didn’t turn out the way that was anticipated.
Very frequently, Downey Jr.’s dialogue is heard and not seen. His mouth disguised from sight, his strange accent sounding different by the minute, it feels as though lots of ADR was involved in creating his performance here. In fact, Chris McKay (director of The Lego Batman Movie) was brought in during reshoots to also do rewrites. The imagination of the film is zapped away by poor dialouge and jokes that flat out do not land. Even in the dicey canon of the titular character on the big screen, this one falls far more short than others. It doesn’t have the charisma of Eddie Murphy in the 1998 version. Nor does it have the whimsical fun or magnetism of a star like Rex Harrison in Richard Fleischer’s 1967 version. Thought truthfully, neither the ’98 or ’67 versions are all that good either, but they have their moments.
Downey is lifeless in this movie, and it truly feels like the strangest possible choice for him post-Avengers. He brings virtually nothing to the role and often times his dialouge is inaudible due the aforementioned perplexing accent. The voice cast is quite expansive and some of them are actually quite good. Tom Holland, Rami Malek, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani and a host of others bring their best, but it isn’t enough to remotely elevate this film. The story follows all of the voice cast as the different animals and Downey on an adventure to find a cure for the Queen as she has been poisoned. Michael Sheen plays a rival doctor and films villain, but he doesn’t get much to do other than twirl his figurative mustache.
Along for the journey is Stubbins (Harry Collett) a boy who brings an injured squirrel to the good doctor to revive him. He’s an outcast of sorts and feels at home with Dolittle and the animals. Like Downey’s performance, Collett just doesn’t have the charisma, or maybe just didn’t have the part to bring life to this movie. Stubbins finds himself being able to communicate to the animals nearly instantly.
Visually the movie just doesn’t look all that great. Lots of CGI, overly lit sequences that feel inauthentic and a general lack of any sense of place don’t even make this a visual splendor despite its exotic locales. To be fair, CGI is expected in a film like this, and maybe they didn’t have the budget, but Dolittle‘s visuals seldom rise to the likes of other computer animated animal flicks.
Dolittle will satisfy the family crowd. It’s most assuredly aimed at kids, and there’s enough colorful visuals and humor to keep them engaged. It’s hard to really dunk on the film. It should suffice to say it just doesn’t rise above the standard family fare that hits theaters now-a-days. A movie like The Kid Who Would Be King, a January release in 2019, is a family film with a lot of heart and fun moments that doesn’t rely on the story telling tropes or fart jokes to be a movie that pleases all ages. It can be done, but Dolittle is yet another example of ensemble movies with highly talented stars that fail to bring any sort of uniqueness to the table.