Dolittle (2020)

“Please make it stop.”

Featuring a massive and wastefully ballooned budget, Dolittle isn’t destined to become a bona fide box office bomb because it’s the worst picture of the year, although it is pretty terrible. This movie will sink some 20,000 leagues beneath the sea because it doesn’t have an audience. Some dark humor is aimed at adults. Swashbuckling set pieces target preteens. The talking animal animations are clearly there to rile up toddlers. But none of Dolittle comes together as one cohesive piece, making for one of the strangest family films I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s both bizarre and a bazaar. Not many movies can lay claim to those two, perhaps for good reason.

Dolittle starts off as a drawn fairy tale imagination, bringing to life the pages of what looks to be your standard children’s book. It’s a peculiar choice for sure, and one that eventually bleeds into reality once we’re finally acquainted with Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) himself. He looks slovenly, with an unkempt beard and visibly in need of a good wash. Dolittle lost his Lily (Kasia Smutniak) some years ago and has since become an apathetic recluse, hiding from humanity behind the walls of his estate with his own vast menagerie. Then a knock comes at his gate. It’s the first in quite some time.

The young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), at the silent behest of Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) and joined by the commoner Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett), summons the Doctor to save the Queen. He obliges, only because he’ll be evicted from his manor should she pass. And henceforth the open water adventure begins. The feathered and harried and furry crew all seek a rare antidote for the Queen’s sickly slumber, and they’re saddled by Dolittle’s nemesis Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen), a jealous man whose envy of Dolittle’s ability to speak with animals drives him to destroy his former classmate. Many canons are shot and none of them, at least in terms of the script, hit the desired target.

This biggest issue with Dolittle – of which there are many – is that it’s a movie so heavy on plot but light on actual story. The animals are decently animated and are voiced by the who’s who of Hollywood, but they’re so forgettable and mostly lacking personality. The antagonist is one-dimensional, an outright strange performance by Antonio Banderas as King Rassouli lacks both depth and reason, and the whole movie doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what in the world it wants to be or to say. Is Stephen Gaghan’s film an adventure a la Hook, a marauder in the tradition of Pirates of the Caribbean, or a period piece embellishing one of the more notable published names in 20th century literature? That we can’t comprehend an answer given the material is a little more than ironic.

“It is a nightmare.”

Rating: 1 out of 5

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