Who could have expected that we would be missing CATS so soon after its well-deserved crash and burn? Though we’re only days into the new year, DOLITTLE could easily qualify as the worst film of 2020.
This new adaptation of the children’s classic series of stories sees Robert Downey Jr. as the multilingual titular character in his first screen role since his Iron Man character died. (Do comic book characters ever die?) DOLITTLE begins with some heavy exposition from the veterinarian’s sagacious macaw, Poly (voiced by Emma Thompson, LAST CHRISTMAS; MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL; BRIDGET JONES’S BABY; SAVING MR. BANKS), telling us that the good doctor, when he wasn’t treating his neurotic menagerie, he was exploring the world with his wife, Lily. Sadly though, one day Lily went off on her own globe-trotting adventure and never returned, pushing Dolittle to hide out in his London compound that was gifted to him by Queen Victoria. Years later, his reclusive existence is shattered when teenager Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett, DUNKIRK) knocks in his door asking for his help to save a squirrel he accidentally shot. At the same time, the Queen’s niece or cousin or something, Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), shows up to tell Dolittle that he must cure the Queen (Jessie Buckley, JUDY) of a mysterious, life-threatening illness or he’ll lose everything. Dolittle’s animal friends jump on the opportunity to reconnect the doctor with his own kind and together Dolittle, Poly, Chee-Chee the angsty gorilla (Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY; SHORT TERM 12), Dab-Dab the over-enthusiastic duck (Octavia Spencer, MA; INSTANT FAMILY; THE SHAPE OF WATER; HIDDEN FIGURES; FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS), Yoshi the always-cold polar bear (John Cena, FERDINAND), Plimpton the cynical ostrich (Kumail Nanjani, THE BIG SICK), Jip the myopic dog (Tom Holland, SPIES IN DISGUISE; the AVENGERS franchise; THE CURRENT WAR), the now-healed Kevin the sassy squirrel (Craig Robinson, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME) and others embark on a high seas adventure in search of a fruit that will save the Queen’s life. Tommy jumps on board too, as he sees his future as the doctor’s apprentice. Along the way to nowhere anyone has ever been before, they have to contend with Dolittle’s school rival, Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen, PASSENGERS), who wants to see the Queen die, and King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas, PAIN AND GLORY; LIFE ITSELF; THE 33) and his tiger Barry (Ralph Fiennes, OFFICIAL SECRETS; SPECTRE), who both have long-standing bones to pick with Dolittle.
With so much talent attached to this film what could possibly go wrong? As we just saw (or, if you were lucky, didn’t see) with CATS, plenty. The script, for starters, is completely headshaking. Why on Earth would you want to start a family film on such a down note as having the main character suffer from PTSD due to the death of his wife? Then someone had the brilliant idea to have the voice actors riff. I never knew Victorian England had so many jive talkers. When Kevin the squirrel channels Captain Kirk, I knew I was having a nightmare. As much of a mess as DOLITTLE is, it must have been even worse when it was test screened in front of an audience last April. Word is that it was so unfunny that Chris McKay (THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE) had to write new material and director Stephen Gaghan (SYRIANA) then spent three weeks re-shooting scenes. Watching the finished product, it seems that it was all for naught though, as the film’s pace zigzags from the frenetic to the moribund and back again. Most of the scenes with Banderas were clearly left on the cutting room floor. This second act makes absolutely no sense but at least it lasts longer and is mildly more interesting than the five-minute final act that involves Dolittle pulling half of Victorian England’s steel output from a dragon’s butt. Seriously.
With a whopping US$175 production budget, Universal is certain to take a huge financial hit here. The studio was hoping for DOLITTLE to become its next tentpole franchise but instead the film is following the path of the “Dark Universe” franchise – into the abyss, hopefully never to be seen again.
Do yourself a favour and give this steaming pile of ostrich poop a very wide berth.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 24th, 8:30 am HK time!
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