Dolittle movie review: Robert Downey Jr tries too hard, fully aware he's signed up for a tonally inconsistent train wreck

Mihir Fadnavis

Jan 17, 2020 11:46:59 IST


Language: English

Another casualty of the January dumping ground of Hollywood, Dolittle attempts to be grand family fare with a big star but ultimately ends up grandly underwhelming with a star that seems to know he is in the middle of a disaster. 

 Dolittle movie review: Robert Downey Jr tries too hard, fully aware hes signed up for a tonally inconsistent train wreck

Robert Downey Jr in a still from Dolittle. YouTube

Based on the classic Hugh Lofting book The Story of Doctor Dolittle, this is the fourth adaptation if you count musicals, and the first reboot since the Eddie Murphy movie from 1998. Concept-wise, it is solid – a genius professor has the ability to talk to animals, and realises he can utilise this power for the greater good. In this version, Dolittle (played by Robert Downey Jr) is tasked with saving the life of the dying Queen Victoria, and looks towards his animal friends to search for a mystic cure. Of course, there is a villain in the film in the form of Michael Sheen, who is also on the lookout for this death-defying cure. 

The first thing you will notice about the film is the tone, which is predictably all over the place, but in an astonishing, blatant way, as if no one actually gives a damn about the audience noticing this. Director Stephen Gaghan, who earlier made the terrific Syriana and the okay Gold, does not seem like the ideal choice for a whimsical movie like this because the story begins in a chirpy animated form but suddenly slips into a dark and depressing jaunt about a man crying over a woman who left him. Such tonal shifts keep occurring throughout the film making you wonder if there were too many cooks at the helm here. The majority of the good moments come from the assortment of Dolittle’s animal friends, who are incidentally voiced by famous people with recognisable voices but they exist in vacuum, as the focus remains mainly on our lead character, who does not seem to have much charisma. 

Downey Jr’s performance is, quite simply, peculiar. He delivers his lines in a variety of different accents – which gives you the impression of him channeling his character from Tropic Thunder. The entire film, in fact, also seems like one of the fake trailers from that movie. The parallels are uncanny – Downey Jr is now a man trying to make a loveable Oscar bait-ey film after starring in a string of similar-looking action movies, and is now losing perspective on what his place in Hollywood-land is. So he is trying extra hard to stand out with weird accents. It is either that or he knows he signed up for a disaster, and is actively taking steps to complete the train wreck.  

At least in the Eddie Murphy movies, the humour was lowbrow enough to be acceptable by a certain section of audiences (mainly the adolescents who love fart jokes) but Dolittle alienates even that crowd. There is also a sense of outdated filmmaking here as the attempts of making everything grand do not come through because movies on this scale come out every week. The bigger the film aims for, the smaller it seems.

It may ultimately have some shelf life on streaming platforms because of Downey Jr’s clickable star power but it is moot if anyone would want to invest time in what is clearly the most unwatchable film he has ever made.

Rating: *

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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2020 11:46:59 IST