By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Six Pack) –
The great Dr. Dolittle is beloved by the English court; bequeathed an estate from which to practice his medicine, he is seen as a legendary man of healing for his uncanny ability to communicate with animals. After an incident in which his long-time wife and fellow adventurer Lily dies, he is so taken with despair that he closes off all contact with the outside world. One day, however, a young boy named Tommy appears at his gates, along with a Princess named Lady Rose. It seems that Victoria, the young Queen of England, has taken ill and the nation’s best doctor is needed to find a cure. Dolittle assembles a team of his most loyal animals to join the expedition.
Dolittle joins the ranks of an unusual legacy of films which came before it. Not as a “good” film, or a “classic” film, but as one that is comically memorable for the worst of reasons. This is indeed one of the most quizzically strange animals of a talking animal movie. Based heavily on the titular children’s novel series, the greatest failure behind this movie is the scattershot way in which it is presented. There is a basic template of a story here that could have made for a rousing adventure. I have no doubt that at some point in the script-writing process there may even have been a great (or at least compelling) story to tell here. The intended humor of this film lands so rarely, but the movie somehow manages hilarity at nearly every turn. Sadly for those involved, that appears to be totally unintentional.
Well at least the film works in a way?
Tales of the film’s troubled production have become near legendary. Reportedly, the director was in such a hurry to complete the film that he payed little attention to blocking with regards to its CGI characters. The implication alleged that the director was not patient enough to plan for post-production challenges. While I cannot personally vouch for these rumors, I can say that the movie doesn’t have the feel of someone who understands the nuances of filmmaking when mixing human and computer-generated characters. It often feels that two characters are not in the same scene with each other; they rarely share the same shot.
The casting of this film is pretty spectacular. Besides Robert Downey Jr., the cast includes Michael Sheen, Antonio Banderas, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, and numerous others. I cannot discredit any of their performances, and in fact feel pretty strongly that they all earn their pay. Unfortunately the script is too disjointed and unevenly presented for any truly standout performances to come to light. Because of the rushed presentation, the most that characters get in generally consists of one-liner jokes.
Kudos to Robert Downey Jr. for his attempt to do something unique with his performance. He reportedly modeled his performance on the character of a real life quack Welsh doctor who like the fictional Dolittle believed he could converse with animals. The result is a performance in which you’re never quite sure if the character is as talented as he says he is, or just clinically insane. I’ll admit most of the film’s charm comes from Downey’s full commitment to weirdness. His Dr. Dolittle is sort of a cross between Radagast from the Hobbit films and Downey Jr’s own Sherlock Holmes.
Dolittle might even be more of a Birdshit Magnet than Radagast.
The film opens with a speedy summarization of past events that kind of feel like a better movie than what we actually got. This amply sets the stage for the pacing issues that adhere to the film like syrup on a waffle. For a movie with so much backstory, the movie never lingers long enough to fully understand the motivations of its characters.
While I cannot personally vouch for its accuracy, this final beer is a toast of sorts to the English businessman who I spoke to in the bar just before the movie (I give a great deal of academic credit to people I run into at bars who actually know a thing or two about movies). Based on the credentials of being English and also a fellow boozy movie fan, I asked him about Robert Downey Jr.’s propensity for attempting British accents. My new friend and expert witness proceeded to confirm what I’ve secretly suspected for years. RDJ simply should stop attempting British accents.
“Ok, I get that you were nominated for an Oscar the first time you did it… but that was the old/young you…”
Dolittle is a fanciful drive through a mile-long pile of money riding a gasoline-soaked, molotov cocktail-filled limousine, driven by a coked out pre-Ironman Robert Downey Jr.
Dolittle (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever an animated animal character talks off-camera in an obvious way to save the already exploitative lip-syncing budget.
Take a Drink: whenever Robert Downey Jr. does “animal talk”
Take a Drink: for every animal pun
Do a Shot: for smash-cuts in an adventure film