In a sense, Dolittle is a coup in that it is both silly and yet bizarrely joyless—dragon anus scene includedby Caspar Salmon / February 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
At a certain point during Dolittle my appreciation of Robert Downey Jr’s performance in the lead role tipped from bafflement and despair into genuine concern for him as a person. Eventually, it became hard to watch him playing a man so detached from civilised society that he could only communicate to beasts in a series of grunts and squawks, and not draw disturbing conclusions about the actor himself. For Robert Downey Jr conducts himself, throughout this movie, exactly in the manner of a man who has lost all connection with reality. His acting rests on mad decisions, on ill-conceived whims; his line readings are all over the map. Can he no longer speak human?
A million and one problems attended the making of Dolittle, and each one of them cost at least 175 bucks. Like post-war Berlin, the movie honestly and even movingly flaunts the scars of its discomfiture: rewrites, reshoots, brutal cuts and edits; relentless re-dubbed lines to cover up what must have been a veritable plethora of flubs; over-use of special effects; a spiralling budget evident in pointless aerial shots or scenes filled to the gills with needless extras all making a big ugly mess and noise.
All of this is visible onscreen—and then, at the heart of the film, there’s that big, lumbering, unfortunate performance, which seems to have been the result of a pampered ego making a disastrous decision, abetted by quivering yes-men. Why is RDJ doing a Welsh accent here? Why? WHY? Hearing Doctor Dolittle speak in a voice reminiscent of Rob Brydon imitating Anthony Hopkins in The Trip kills the movie outright—especially because Downey has so little control over the accent that he cannot modulate his voice. He therefore speaks in a sort of whispering growl throughout. This alone tanks the movie, because we need a touch—just a touch—of dynamism to carry us through this harum-scarum story.
That story has been rejigged: what we have here is ‘a take’ on the original, because no narrative —not even a classic like Little Women—can be told simply anymore but it must be reconfigured and turned inside out. This film finds Dolittle retreating from society several years after his apogee as a very clever vet, which ended with the death of his explorer wife. Holed up in his big old mansion with a duck (Octavia…