One look at the poster will tell you everything you need to know about the horribly misguided and unwatchable Dolittle (along with the title itself, which apparently doubled as the mantra for everyone involved in this disaster)—a thoroughly nonchalant Robert Downey Jr. seems to be shrugging off the whole exercise with a “Hey, whatcha gonna do?” look, warning us to stay far, far away.
Exactly a year ago at this time, I was extolling the god-awfulness of Steven Knight’s Serenity, a January release that bolstered the idea that the start of the year is the place where terrible movies go to die. Dolittle is worse.
Credited to director Stephen Gaghan (though the substantial—and ultimately fruitless—reshoots were helmed by Jonathan Liebesman), the film is an abject failure across the board. And that includes everything, from the non-sensical story riddled with plot holes to the pseudo-Scottish/Welsh/Cockney jibber-jabber of an accent Downey employs throughout.
Speaking of the plot, here goes: Downey’s Doctor Dolittle is mourning the death of his adventuresome wife, who years ago departed on a perilous journey and never came home. (How’s that for a cheery start, kids?) Since then, he has closeted himself away in a dilapidated castle with a zoo-and-a-half’s worth of creatures (that must smell lovely), refusing any human contact. When Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) falls ill, the tween Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) is dispatched to fetch Dolittle to treat her. Why they don’t summon a people doctor is never addressed, nor is that fact that a little girl is sent by herself to confront the hirsute recluse.
After Dolittle agrees to (first) bathe and (second) take the case, he discovers that the Queen has been poisoned by the evil Dr. Müdfly (Michael Sheen, the film’s lone bright point) and that only the fruit of the elusive Eden tree can save her. To find the tree, Dolittle must first steal his dead wife’s journal from her father Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), a swarthy pirate who would be kicked out of Jack Sparrow’s family for being too bonkers.
Thus, the journey begins. But before we get to the climactic scene where Dolittle reaches up a flatulent dragon’s butt to remove a set of bagpipes (yes, that happens), we get a non-stop barrage of misadventures featuring everything from a gold-toothed tiger in desperate need of therapy to a jumpy squirrel who spends the entire trip shouting stuff like, “I bought a front-row seat to Crazy Town!”
Gaghan (who also co-wrote this mess) should quietly, immediately, and indefinitely take his seat next to Cats’ Tom Hooper in director detention, and his colleagues in the writer’s room (Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, and Chris McKay) can join them to think about what they’ve done. What isn’t stupid is rote, and what isn’t rote is so head-scratchingly odd you’ll wonder if, in fact, Dolittle is just the work of—well, perhaps a jumpy squirrel and a maladjusted tiger.
That may sound crazy, but for a film that includes a grown man talking to a nervous squid who is convinced that “snitches get stitches”, there’s not much outside the realm of possibility when it comes to the ineptitude responsible for this epic fail.