Review: Dolittle (2020)

Dolittle. Directed by Stephen Gaghan. Universal Pictures, 2020.

Premiere Impressions

            When considering which screening to attend this week, I had two options: Dolittle or Bad Boys 3. About seven minutes into Dolittle, I knew I had made the wrong choice. You know that annoying co-worker in your office who cannot stop telling everyone how funny their eight-year-old is? Dolittle is that movie. Even though the jokes are immature and nonsensical, Dolittle is insistent that it is hilarious. The movie flings jokes at the audience like a monkey flings its own shadoob. Every scene—nay, every moment—is punctuated by some quippy line from an animal character. Not only do the jokes not actually work, but many of them simply do not make sense for the time period. Yes, you could argue that the movie is trying to intentionally incorporate more contemporary humor, but this is not a clever Hercules-esque comment on pop culture. I honestly just do not think the writers thought about the fact that making a Big Bird reference would not make sense for Victorian England. Are you thinking, “but Brecken, this is a movie for kids?” Well, add this to the many reasons I have no interest in having kids.

There are exactly two positives I can give this movie. Number one, the design for the dragon is pretty cool. Number tw—oh wait, I’m sorry. If you are rereading that last sentence, yes, there is a freaking dragon in this movie. But not just any dragon, oh no, a dragon that is impacted. There is a dragon in this movie suffering from severe constipation. This is not one of my sassy jokes. This is the climax of the film.

The second positive is that, for the most part, the animals are nicely animated. The gorilla, in particular, has a nice mixture of realism and expression. While I’m discussing the animals, though, I have to note how incredibly strange the voice acting is in this film. First of all, not one actor sounds like they are actually acting with anyone else in the scene. There is a lifelessness on screen when any of the animals speak, which is poorly punctuated by the fact that the animals typically deliver their lines in close-ups that are cutaways from the human actors. Second, each line of dialogue sounds as if the actor went into the booth and recorded without any direction. It is truly wild to listen to some top-notch talent each deliver their lines as if they are in different films. Rami Malek tries to get into character as a gorilla with PTSD. (Oh yeah, if you thought maybe this was one of those movies where the gorilla doesn’t have PTSD, think again.) Craig Robinson voices his squirrel (pronounced “sqa-wear-rul” in Victorian England, apparently) like it is straight out of one of those discount-Pixar movies about animals you find in your backyard. Kumail Nanjiani sounds like Kumail Nanjiani, but slightly faster.

Tying together all of the reasons for Dolittle’s horrendousness is the fact that this movie has no idea what it wants to be, which is exemplified in some of the worst editing I’ve seen in a big-budget film. Not one moment seems to matter and not one emotional note is allowed to land because we have immediately cut to a new scene or another reaction shot. The amount of reaction shots is staggering. Should Dr. Dolittle or one of his animal companions say or do anything, we get a reaction shot from a background character. Once most of the background characters are removed, the animals start doing reaction shots for each other. This film has exactly two things in common with The Office: an insane number of reaction shots and not enough Craig Robinson.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • In this movie, Antonio Banderas plays Robert Downey, Jr.’s father-in law. That is just a fact about this movie that exemplifies its ridiculousness.
  • What the hell is Robert Downey, Jr. doing in this? Have we seen a whisper accent this bad since Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending? Or Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl?
  • It seems weird that Dr. Dolittle’s ability to talk to animals is supposed to be a super special gift, but his child stowaway picks up the ability to speak all of the animal languages rather quickly.
  • Why should I believe the Queen is dying in this movie? Not one sprinkle of make-up was applied to make her look sick. Every time a character says, “the Queen is gravely ill,” the camera cuts to her and she looks like she’s taking a gentle snooze.
  • A tiger gets kicked in the genitals in this movie. Again, this is just a thing that happens.

The Final Tea

            Just how bad is Dolittle? Dolittle is so bad, I considered whether or not I hated Robert Downey, Jr. as I left the screening. Dolittle is so bad, I audibly said “what the hell is going on right now” in the theater. Dolittle is so bad, Marion Cotillard, the Academy Award-winning French performer—who just so happens to be my favorite living actress—does a bad French accent.

GRADE: D-

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