Dolittle does little with its $250 million budget. Pictures: Universal Pictures
Dolittle does little with its $250 million budget. Pictures: Universal Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW: Robert Downey Jr as Dolittle does nothing

Psssst! You in the market for some real movie magic?

Then get along to Dolittle, and watch Hollywood make $250 million disappear in 100 minutes.

One day, there will be a great story (or better still, a documentary) emerge to explain how the heck a quarter of a billion bucks could ever have been pumped into a vessel as empty as this.

For now, we just have the movie itself: a quirky, herky-jerky combo of wonky special effects, shonky voice casting, and a bewilderingly terrible lead performance from Robert Downey Jr.

Following in the footsteps of Rex Harrison in the 1960s and Eddie Murphy in the 1990s, RDJ has the title role in Dolittle, playing a veterinary doctor who can converse with all creatures great and small.

For reasons unknown, Downey spends the whole movie speaking in an obscure, often unintelligable accent. Picture: Universal Pictures
For reasons unknown, Downey spends the whole movie speaking in an obscure, often unintelligable accent. Picture: Universal Pictures

In keeping with the original Doctor Dolittle books by author Hugh Lofting, the story unfolds in 19th century England. Most similarities with the source material ends there.

With Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) being secretly and slowly poisoned by prominent members of her court (led by Jim Broadbent), it is deemed by a loyal lady-in-waiting that only one physician can save her.

However, John Dolittle (Downey Jr.) is a hermit who wilfully retreated from conventional society many years earlier. Considering he prefers the company of his own private zoo these days, Dolittle may not be the best choice to find the anecdote that will save the life of the Queen and the future of her Empire.

While this is an unnecessarily convoluted story for a movie that should really just centre on a fella who can gab at length with any and all species, it becomes almost incomprehensible once filtered through Downey's dire depiction of the Doc.

RDJ’s accent sounds like a Welshman with severe head cold.
RDJ’s accent sounds like a Welshman with severe head cold.

For reasons best known only to himself, Downey speaks his lines in an obscure and often unintelligible accent that could be likened to a Welshman with a severe head cold.

It's the kind of voice - a manic half-mumbled whisper, half-garbled shout - that even Johnny Depp at his most self-indulgent would think twice about before using.

Once Downey starts using this annoying vocal affection to interact with an overcrowded menagerie of CGI critters - including a polar bear that calls everyone "bro", a surly squirrel who wants to kill a teenage boy, and a dog that wears reading glasses - the movie just yoyos from bad to worse to why? repeatedly.

DOLITTLE (PG)

Director: Stephen Gaghan (Traffic)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen.

Rating: *1/2

Does nothing.

 

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