The 2020 version of Dolittle stars Robert Downey Jr. as a reclusive doctor, whom, at the bequest of the Queen of England, embarks on a magical (and often chaotic) journey to find the fruit of the Eden Tree to save the Queen from certain death. Downey is joined by an ensemble voice-over cast that includes Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), Rami Malik (Bohemian Rhapsody), John Cena of WWE fame, Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Octavia Spencer (The Help), Craig Robinson (This Is The End), Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) amongst others. Even with a cast with the credibility of this film, Dolittle still disappoints.
Dolittle, while being advertised as an adventure comedy, is just simply not that funny. There were a few creative funny spots, but potty humor and farts can only go so far. The writers tried far too hard to create memorable or smart one liners (I’m looking at you “snitches get stitches”) that fell forced and flat. There were more laughs, and I use the term ‘laughs’ lightly, from adults than there were children in the theater. And this is supposed to be a kid’s movie!
Even though RDJ was billed as the titular character of the movie, he was easily the most disappointing aspect of the film as a whole. While Dolittle is supposed to be a quirky, overly intelligent, doctor who can speak to animals, he came across more like a drunken man trying to impersonate Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It just didn’t work and came across very uneven and uninspired. I personally had a very hard time understanding Downey Jr for the entire first act of the film. He spoke far too low and much too quickly in an accent that just wasn’t good. RDJ has become known as a character actor over the past decade with phenomenal turns as Ironman/Tony Stark and Detective Sherlock Holmes, both of which are quirky and overly intelligent in their own rights, but his turn as Doctor John Dolittle is forgettable at best. His character detracted from the film more than he added to it.
What was most surprising, in terms of the strongest performances, was John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear and Craig Robinson’s Kevin the recovering squirrel. Both Cena and Robinson over delivered in their roles in a film that really needed it. Their comedic timing and tone were the bright spot in the film. Michael Sheen, the main villain of the film, while over the top and quite cartoonish, was another actor that really shone as well. The voice-over cast did the best they could with the material that was given to them, but that still just wasn’t enough. I found myself cringing, trying to get through some of the dialogue in the film and judging from the near silence from the other members of the audience, I think they would agree with me.
The plot of the film is another negative point that needs to be addressed. This was one of those films that feels like they had way too many ideas that they wanted to implement, but no real direction on how they wanted to do it. There was one scene in the film that saw an orangutan appear, say one line, and was never seen again. The line wasn’t funny and there was no reason to have it added to the film, so why was it added in the first place? There were a few other parts of the film that seemed to serve no purpose other than to increase the runtime of the film by a few minutes. I would have loved to see the writing team cut some pieces out and rain in on some of the parts and maybe, just maybe, the movie would have felt more complete.
One thing the writers did do right was add in some allusions to classic films, such as a callback to the Godfather with an army of ants and a romantically challenged dragonfly. I actually managed a chuckle when one of the ants murmured the famous “you came to my on the day of my daughter’s wedding” quote that we all know far too well. It was so well done and completely unexpected which was nice. The extended previews where the animals were acting out scenes from famous movies now makes much more sense.
While Dolittle as a whole might not be the strongest or most entertaining film out there, it might just provide the right amount family entertainment to be enough.