Max Ingleby reviews Robert Downey Jr’s latest film, Dolittle.
Dolittle, the latest offering from ex-Avenger Robert Downey Jr is… well, let’s just say it’s a wild ride. Downey Jr is the eponymous Dr Dolittle, an eccentric physician who happens to be able to speak to animals, and has shut himself away in his manor house after his wife’s tragic death on a sea-faring expedition. But alas! A young Queen Victoria has fallen gravely ill and has despatched her maid of honour to fetch the old misanthrope to save her, the only cure being a mythical fruit from a mythical tree on a mythical island. Hijinks ensue.
I went into this knowing I should adjust my parameters, it being a film for children and all. That being said, I reckon the cut off age for enjoying Dolittle is probably around seven, at a stretch. It’s fun, every now and then – Downey Jr does his Sherlock Holmes character but, get this, now he’s WELSH – but the few times that I laughed were mainly at the film, not with it. I enjoyed Martin Sheen being called a chinless wonder, that was fun, oh, and the whales also have a welsh accent. Get it? Yeah.
It bumbles along, just about avoiding being explicitly bad…
It bumbles along, just about avoiding being explicitly bad, and there’s always the guess-which-celebrity-voices-which-CGI-animal or whatever. Rami Malek is a gorilla called Chee-Chee. That’s mildly notable. Apparently, this film is on course to lose around $100 million, having required extensive reshoots and suffering from a distinct lack of laughs, and the exhaustive post-production saga is noticeable in the final product. There was one scene, after the way-too-long and exceptionally unfunny Godfather homage, and before Antonio Banderas in eyeliner (the two people who saw this film know what I’m talking about) that was so aggressively edited I thought my tea had been spiked with Adderall.
I particularly enjoyed the continuation of the noble tradition, following in the footsteps of the great Alanis Morrisette, of Americans attempting to explain irony and getting it utterly, gloriously wrong. Quote: “Irony is me wanting to kill you [Banderas’s son-in-law] with every fibre of my being, but loving my daughter more.” That’s called impulse control, bud! Oh, it’s just delicious.
The spectacle that is the dragon scene is not something I will forget in a hurry. See it in the cinemas at your own peril.
Aside from the occasional blip, it was difficult to pinpoint precisely when Dolittle plummeted from mediocrity into bad cinema. Oh wait, that’s not true, I know exactly when. Three words: Dragon Rectal Exam. Let me add a few more: Bagpipes Removed From Rectum, Dragon Farts In Dolittle’s Face. Good Lord. This was the emotional climax of the film, by the way. A genuinely upsetting experience that no god-fearing man should ever have to sit through. I found myself asking, Dear Reader, as I am sure you would too, how they convinced Mr Downey Jr to sink lower than the guy who banged a pig on Black Mirror. To my horror, I stumbled upon an article that alleged that Robert himself came up with the million-dollar idea, which, frankly, chilled me to my core.
Despite still reeling from the whole reptile enema situation, I can see that if I saw this in the cinema as a seven-year-old, I would probably be obsessed with it for about a week. That being said, kids’ films should be great (see the incredible Paddington franchise) and Dolittle is far from that. It has its moments of genuine amusement, and its moments of head scratching atrociousness, but for the most part it’s simply dull. The spectacle that is the dragon scene is not something I will forget in a hurry. See it in the cinemas at your own peril.