Dolittle is exactly what you expect when you hear about a film that has undergone massive studio interference. It’s not exactly the worst film, but you can see a lot of tonal issues over the course of the film and it’s obvious that this is not the film Stephen Gaghan originally wanted to make. I don’t think it’s the disaster that other people have said it is, but that doesn’t make it a good film.
The film focuses on Dr John Dolittle, who used to be an important figure in British society but has become a recluse following the death of his wife. Two events though convince Dolittle to end his time as a recluse, the arrival of Tommy Stubbins, who wants to work as Dolittle’s apprentice, and a message from Buckingham Palace requesting his help as Queen Victoria has become deathly ill. Dolittle determines that Queen Victoria has been poisoned and the only cure is a fruit on an island thought not to exist so Dolittle takes Stubbins and the animals he works with on a voyage to find the plant. Now the main issue with the film for me is the tonal issue. It feels like this was meant to be more of a darker take on Dolittle but there are too many moments of comedic relief that don’t quite work. This is best exemplified in the dialogue which has a mix of more period appropriate dialogue with modern dialogue which was clearly added in through reshoots. There is no part of the film that doesn’t feel muddled through the reshoots and any weight the film could have is crushed by this. As a result, the film just comes across as boring, having nothing really to say as all of the elements that could have given the film a point have been hacked to the bone.
The performances are a mixed bag throughout the film. In theory you understand what Robert Downey Jr is doing with his portrayal of Dr Dolittle, having him be more in line with his characterisation of Sherlock Holmes, but it just doesn’t work. His accent, which he clearly intended to be Welsh but it does a tour of the British isles and just felt really distracting to me. Harry Collett is fairly bland as Stubbins and doesn’t have the chemistry with Robert Downey Jr to make the character arc work and Carmel Laniado is decent enough but it feels like the character was written for an older performer. Jim Broadbent is pretty bad in his role, being a completely one note villain, but having no sense of personality for his role. Some life is brought to the film by Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen, who are having fun in their parts, but they do feel underused in the film. Ralph Ineson and especially Jesse Buckley are completely underutilised in the film, Buckley in particular spends most of the film unconscious in bed and gets no chance to show her talent.
The voice actors are also a mixed bag. Emma Thompson gets the most to do as Polly and is decent enough in the film, there are some decent comedic moments with John Cena and Kumail Nanjiani, Craig Robinson and Octavia Spencer get some decent moments and, whilst it was a bit distracting at first to hear him, there is some fun to be had with Jason Mantzoukas. Ralph Fiennes and Tom Holland get some good moments, although they feel underutilised and probably the best character development in the film is given to Rami Malek’s character. Selena Gomez and Marion Cotillard meanwhile are distractingly bad in the film, giving no emotion to their characters and you can tell they’re reading their lines rather than acting them.
The technical elements of the film are also a mixed bag. There are some decent bits of production design sprinkled throughout the film, but these moments are few and far between, the reshoots being most apparent with the heavy use of green screen. The reshoots are also obvious through the quality of the CG for the animals, which varies throughout the film. The music is fairly forgettable whilst the costume design is pretty decent. The editing meanwhile is a mess from trying to combine the original footage with the reshoots, resulting in scenes being trimmed to the bare minimum and voice over being used to cover gaps where scenes were cut out through the reshoots. This extends to the action scenes as well, the editing in these scenes being messy, especially at the end which tries to combine an action scene, the culmination of a character arc and a fart joke into the same scene and just falls flat.
Overall, Dolittle is not a complete disaster, but it is a mess. This is the most obvious example of a film that has been hacked to the bone through studio interference and reshoots. I don’t know whether Stephen Gaghan’s original version of the film would have been better but it would have at least been consistent. No element in the film is consistent and the end result comes across as boring and lifeless, with no clear identity of its own.
My Rating: 2/5