It’s been a while since I’ve taken my youngest child to a movie where she was asking me when we could leave almost the whole time. Her little four year old self actually sat through ‘Avengers: Endgame’ without much complaint at all. However, she was laying in my lap and asking me when we were leaving before Doctor Dolittle (a sad Robert Downey Jr.) was even setting out for his adventure. In fairness, it was snowing outside, but it was also ridiculously cold and the wind was a bit much for her when we got to the theater. So, she wanted to go back out into the freezing wind to leave this movie.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t moments that she chuckled at or that I smiled at. I can’t remember if I actually laughed at any point, but I’m sure I did. The biggest problem with the whole thing is just how utterly unmemorable it was to experience. I remember the basic plot (sad Dolittle comes out of retirement to finish his dead wife’s journey in order to save a dying queen) and the actors, but I can barely register why someone was trying to kill the queen, why the apprentice kid was there to begin with, or what any of the one note motivations were for each of the animals. I just remember that there were a lot of big name actors playing one note animals.
Seriously, the talent on display here is like the kind of cast only a big name director could get. And Stephen Gaghan is the kind of big name director that’s got the word Oscar associated with his career. Yet, the script that he wrote for this film is razor thin and filled to the brim with cliche’s. Which are both facts that could have been overcome if there was anybody worth remembering. Downey playing Dolittle sounds good on paper, but in the film he’s just kinda phoning it in. He’s not really bad or anything, but also never feels like he’s giving the character his heart.
That lack of heart really carries over to the whole production. The sets, CGI, action sequences, and even the opening animation just scream of paycheck. Again, nothing is terrible. It’s just serviceable. Imagine going to a theme park and getting the cardboard cut outs of locations or people. That’s what this movie feels like. You can have fun with it, but you can also have fun watching an episode of The Masked Singer’ and that show is basically free trash. Sadly, this particular brand of theme park is not free and it’s not worth your money.
Robert Downey Jr. can do just about anything, but he cannot fix a bad script. Actors like Rami Malek, Emma Thompson, Tom Holland, Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and so many more cannot fix poor editing. And bringing in a bunch of people to salvage a mess cannot fix a directors worst impulses. Now, all these things can make all of those shortcomings feel less prevalent, but it can’t turn turpentine into honey.