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'Dolittle' Review | Robert Downey Jr.'s worst performance in ages helps sink this mess

Boosting a cast that included ten Oscar winners/nominees, "Dolittle" should have at least been a fun diversion. Instead, it's an unintentionally funny abomination.
Credit: Universal Pictures

Early on in "Dolittle," a young girl tracks down a famous doctor who has isolated himself in a huge mansion after a personal tragedy. She needs him to help the Queen of England get better after coming down with a mysterious illness. She needs an ancient and very rare fruit from a hidden tree to save her. If only Dr. John Dolittle can grab his ragtag group of talking animals and help her out, all will be better. Yes, this girl thought a man who communicates with animals-and shuns human beings-would be good for helping on this mission. I'm as dumbfounded as you are, ladies and gentlemen. 

This movie is simply not good. A misfire beyond epic proportions that contains far too unintentionally funny moments for a cast and crew boosting TEN different Academy Award winners/nominees. It's too long at just a shade over 100 minutes, and by the end credits, you are ready to run, not walk, away from the theater. 

A film starring Downey Jr. shouldn't be this bad, which makes it distressing to say it's his worst work in decades. His Dolittle adopts some hackneyed Welsh/Gypsy accent that begins to grind your nerves about 30 minutes into the film, and it doesn't get better when the tongue begins to breed different sounding nationalities and speaking manners. It's almost as if he couldn't decide on one way to speak and kept changing it, like a quarterback without a play sheet tucked away on his sleeve. 

Often hard to understand and easy to laugh at, Downey Jr.'s Dolittle interpretation doesn't just fail to lift up a poor film, but he helps it sink instead. It's not a lack of effort. He tries a lot of different things and speeds, but none of them work and only get dizzying by the minute. It's Jack Sparrow meets Sherlock Holmes on steroids and meth. 

The esteemed supporting cast that includes some high-caliber voices: Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Holland, Rami Malek; and physical portrayals such as Antonio Banderas' King and Michael Sheen's Dolittle-envious fellow doctor: fails to render any sort of real impact. It's almost as if they were promised a different movie, which is quite possible. 

Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan is known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for "Traffic" and writing George Clooney a role that won him an Oscar in "Syriana," which makes his decision to come out of filmmaking retirement with this kids film a huge head-scratcher. That is unless you know he wasn't the only person behind the camera. Reshoots took place, which may have re-arranged some of the things that Gaghan shot. Perhaps his cut was darker and involving. Maybe it actually had a pulse. This version is hollow and silly. 

There's a scene where Dolittle has to perform an ugly form of proctology on a dragon, and the scene should have been played for laughs. Big laughs. Instead, you are just shrunk down in your seat trying to hide. There are several scenes here that should have been touching and pierced the chest, but instead come off as amateurish and rushed. Scenes are disjointed, don't attach to one another, and there are no real stakes in the film. It's never in doubt what's going to happen. In most films, that is just fine. Here, it's a detriment. 

Being that it's January, the stink on this one shouldn't be too surprising, especially if you couple in the reshoots. But when you see Downey Jr. starring in a film, that should mean something will be retained from the experience. At the very least, some fun will be had. He's such a live wire full of talent and charisma that "DoLittle" shouldn't have been this bad. 

It's actually an early candidate for worst film of the year. It's not even "fun" bad. It's just bad. 

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