Robert Downey Jr. attends the world premiere of “Dolittle” at Regency Village Theatre on January 11, 2020 in Westwood, California.
With a cast chock full of A-list Hollywood stars, “Dolittle” should be poised for box office domination.
Instead, heading into its opening weekend, the film has been so widely panned by critics that the conservative $20 million to $25 million debut analysts had predicted could shrink even lower.
In his first feature film since “Avengers: Endgame,” Robert Downey Jr. takes on the role of Dr. John Dolittle, the famed physician who can speak with animals — and critics weren’t impressed.
“I wasn’t expecting ‘Dolittle’ to be good, exactly, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this bad,” Bilge Ebiri, writer for Vulture, wrote in his review of the film.
Downey is joined by an all-star cast that includes Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Selena Gomez, Ralph Fiennes, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Marion Cotillard, Antonio Banderas, Tom Holland and Michael Sheen. Only Banderas and Sheen play human characters, the rest lend their voices to a menagerie of animal characters.
“Ultimately ‘Dolittle’ is not just a weak story, badly told, but a puzzling waste of talent,” Kristen Page-Kirby, writer for The Washington Post, said of the film.
Downey’s Dolittle has been living a life of solitude after the disappearance, and presumed death, of his wife. His only companions are his animal patients. That is, until an emissary for Queen Victoria arrives asking the doctor to embark on a quest to retrieve a cure for the queen’s mysterious illness.
The film as a whole has been described as “messy,” “lazy” and too reliant on “a few unnecessary fart and butt jokes.”
It currently holds a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 67 reviews.
Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr., right) can talk to animals, including Chee-Chee the gorilla (voice of Rami Malek).
Still, as the only new family film to hit theaters until “Sonic the Hedgehog” arrives in mid-February, “Dolittle” could entice parents with young kids to venture to cinemas. Especially, since the majority of films in theaters currently are award season contenders and not quite suitable for a younger audience.
However, even if “Dolittle” garners the top end of its expected opening, $25 million would be a disappointing haul considering it cost $175 million just to make the film, and that’s not even including its marketing budget.
“Dolittle” is one of several films based on the stories of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. Rex Harrison starred in the 1967 musical adaptation, Eddie Murphy embodied the character in two films, one in 1998 and one in 2001, and Kyla Pratt, who played Murphy’s daughter, took on the role in three direct-to-DVD sequel films.
Harrison’s film garnered a 32% “Rotten” score, and Murphy’s scored a 43% and 42%, respectively. Pratt’s three films were unscored.
“Faithfully adapting ‘Dolittle’ is simply a cursed endeavor,” Katie Walsh of the Los Angeles Times wrote, noting that Murphy’s films had decent success at the box office despite the terrible reviews.
Here’s a rundown of what critics have said of “Dolittle” ahead of its Jan. 17 opening:
Kristen Page-Kirby, The Washington Post
“Everyone knows that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all,” is how Page-Kirby leads off her review of “Dolittle.” “Less well known is the adage: ‘You can’t publish a movie review that is entirely blank.’
Page-Kirby gave the film zero stars, citing Downey’s performance as alternating “between dull and manic” and a plot that is so frenetic that it loses all sense of suspense or intrigue.
And then there are the CGI creatures that follow Dolittle along on his journey.
“As for the animation, it’s fine in close-up, but whenever a CGI critter appears in the same frame as a human being, man and beast don’t seem to be occupying the same screen,” she wrote. “Or planet. Or dimensional reality.”
Here’s hoping the cast bought themselves something nice with the money they made. Though, to be honest, the only decent thing to do with it would have been to distribute it — a kind of movie malpractice award — among this doctor’s real victims.
Kristy Puchko, IGN
Like Page-Kirby, Kristy Puchko from IGN found the film’s plot, or lack thereof, as well as its editing to be jarring and confusing.
“You might well wonder if you drifted off and missed a scene here or there,” she wrote in her review. “…The editing here should be examined in film schools as a prime example of what not to do. It’s as if the filmmaking team has a grudge against match-on-action cuts. So again and again in one shot to the next, a character jolts from point A to point B without the connective tissue of their crossing. It’s not edgy jump cuts. It’s sloppy.”
So, too, was the additional dialogue recording, a common tool used in filmmaking to fix sound issues in post production.
“What’s striking is how much of the onscreen talent won’t be shown saying their lines,” she wrote. “This hints at how heavily rewritten Dolittle must have been. If you tried to track this as a drinking game, you’d probably pass out before the end of the second act.”
Puchko gave the film a three out of 10.
Dolittle is structured like it was written by a room full of monkeys lazily banging on typewriters between s—-slinging, then cut together by a blind man with broken fingers.
Germain Lussier, io9/Gizmodo
Fart jokes are nothing new to films geared towards children, but it seems like “Dolittle” has taken that gag to the extreme.
“Just when I thought ‘Dolittle’ couldn’t get any less funny or idiotic, Robert Downey Jr. sticks his arms up a dragon’s a–hole. And I do mean that literally,” Germain Lussier, writer for io9 and Gizmodo, said in his review.
This was a sticking point with many critics, out of dozens of reviews. Apparently, Dolittle extracts a bagpipe from the dragon as it farts. Charming.
“I explain this to begin my review of Dolittle because it’s the perfect example of the movie doing something incredibly random for no reason, expecting it to be funny, and just falling flat on its face. Or butt, in this case,” he wrote of the scene. “It happens time and time again, from the instant Downey comes on screen, through the final scene during the credits.”
Lussier did not provide a rating scale in his review.
The movie is shockingly unfunny, largely boring, and a waste of talent on par with … actually, come to think of it, it may set a new record in that regard.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
“Dolittle” is filled with strange, “cringe-worthy one-liners” and a collection of voice actors that seem to have only been offered the gig for the power of their names on a marquee.
“A lot of the animals’ voices are completely generic,” Matt Singer, of ScreenCrush, wrote in his review. “Some are downright unplaceable. They’re the lucky ones; most people will never realize they’re associated with this disaster.”
John Cena’s polar bear character shouts “Somebody call a doctor?” and Ralph Fiennes’ tiger named Barry gets kicked in his nether regions, moaning “Ow, my Barry berries.”
“It appears that at a certain point someone in a position of power determined that this movie could not be saved, but it could be shortened,” Singer wrote. “And so ‘Dolittle’ is absolutely relentless; a non-stop 100-minute assault of putrid gags, abysmal stunts, and celebrity vocal cameos.”
Singer gave the film one out of 10.
‘Dolittle’ is the kind of bad movie that puts the badness of other films in perspective. The current bad movie du jour, ‘Cats,’ is bizarre and alarming, but at least it’s consistent in its presentation of a nightmarish world populated only by weirdly sexual human-cat hybrids. ‘Cats’ is deranged, but it’s still something. ‘Dolittle,’ in contrast, is nothing — except an unpleasant mess.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. “Dolittle” is an NBCUniversal film. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.