Robert Downey, Jr. was one of the best comeback stories of the late 2000s and throughout the 2010s. Once seen as nothing more than a washed up has been plagued by substance abuse, Downey reinvented himself as a certified icon with roles in the MCU as Iron Man, a cinematic reboot of Sherlock Holmes and the comedy “Tropic Thunder” but otherwise he rarely offered anything else memorable beyond these projects. So when he officially semi-retired from the Iron Man role after “Avengers: Endgame” many were curious what his first move would be to help keep his star shining and, for some reason, that move was starring in Universal’s new adaptation of “The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle” simply called “Dolittle”. This isn’t the first time the character of Dolittle has hit the big screen. Eddie Murphy portrayed the doctor who can speak to animals in the 90s. However, this new film promised to follow Hugh Lofting’s book a little more closely. So, let’s examine Downey’s first post-Marvel project and see if “Dolittle” lives up to its legendary source material. This is my review of “Dolittle”.
Following the titular veterinarian, played by Downey, “Dolittle” takes its characters and the audience on a seafaring adventure as Dolittle seeks to complete his late wife’s lifelong dream of locating a legendary fruit in order to help cure a deathly ill Queen Victoria whose death would mean the elimination of Dolittle’s nature sanctuary. In essence it’s just another take on pretty much every generic adventure trope you can think of with a fresh, albeit not very polished coat of paint. The first thing I have to say is God this movie is a mess from top to bottom. “Dolittle” is an instantly forgettable waste of time that panders to only the most childish of viewers lacking substance, originality, focus or even a proper sense of adventure. Sadly it all starts with the titular character and while Downey has become known for his ability to blend dramatic heft with comedic timing his performance in this film proves to be one of his worst.
I mean it’s one thing to accept to be in a bad movie. Many great actors do horrid pictures for a paycheck. But Downey has worked so hard, and often succeeded, over the last decade to prove himself a great actor. I could forgive him if he was the best part of this movie…but sadly he’s not. In fact, his character is pretty insufferable at times. Downey basically got paid to try his best Welsh accent and make gorilla noises. A lot of times he doesn’t even look like he’s having fun doing it. Of course, he’s not given great material to work with either, but as the anchor of this film his talents feel wasted even by his own performance. Other big names like Antonio Banderas, Jim Broadbent and Michael Sheen don’t fare much better as all of them barely try to inject life into a story littered with clichés and predictability.
Nobody looks good coming out of this film even the voice cast consisting of Emma Thompson, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer and others who never really feel like they’re in the same movie. There’s no way these voiceovers were all recorded together, if they were someone needs to be fired and never hired again. Every character feels so disjointed from the rest of the cast, some providing more grounded characterizations and others being more over the top cultural stereotypes playing off the most pandering catchphrases and cultural clichés you can imagine. The fact that none of these animals are convincingly animated with some amazingly horrid CGI and each one feels like they’re battling for screen time only makes them even harder to appreciate even as comic relief. Young children will no doubt find them entertaining. Hell, one kid lost his mind in the theater I was in when he heard John Cena’s voice come from the polar bear. But in the end, all I felt was annoyed as talking animals tried to continue to force themselves into a story where none of them feel like they truly amount to anything.
And all of that is beside the fact that the overall presentation of this film feels horribly mismanaged. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie so mishandled since the 2015 “Fantastic Four” reboot where I truly had to ask myself why I wasted my time even trying to enjoy the film. The editing and story structure are completely bonkers jumping from scene to scene and story element to story element without any concern for proper transitions or pacing. Everything, and I mean everything from the actors to the visuals feels like it’s fighting for your attention which prevents every element from being engaging or interesting. It’s the same mistakes made by some of the worst animated pictures of the last few decades but in live action these flaws feel even more frustrating and distracting.
This is a bad movie. I mean a really bad movie. Everyone was talking about how bad “Cats” was a month ago, but at least I found that watchable or even enjoyably bad. With this flick Universal outdid themselves presenting an even WORSE CGI littered abomination that wasn’t even enjoyably bad it was just plain old BAD. “Dolittle” will no doubt be a fun adventure for young audiences who don’t know any better and that’s perfectly fine. But it’s far from anything else. The acting by everyone involved feels like career worst material, the visuals are unsightly and unconvincing, the story is all over the place…I mean it’s amazing how big of a mess this is. Regardless of how you look at this movie, as an attempt at family entertainment, Robert Downey, Jr.’s attempt to remain relevant beyond Marvel or as a more genuine adaptation of its famous source material, “Dolittle” fails on all levels. I leave you with a pun I just couldn’t hold back: this movie has a very appropriate name because the filmmakers and crew did, in fact do VERY little right.