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Dr. Dolittle

Review: 'Dr. Dolittle' doesn't do much

Web posted on: Thursday, June 25, 1998 6:08:14 PM

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- In 1967 Rex Harrison starred in a musical version of Hugh Lofting's charming "Doctor Dolittle" stories about a veterinarian who could talk to the animals. Starting this weekend, Eddie Murphy is starring in a very updated non-musical version of the story. The film, once again called "Doctor Dolittle," co-stars Oliver Platt and Ossie Davis.

Many people may have fond memories of the '60s take on "Doctor Dolittle." But at that time, the movie received bad reviews, did poor business at the box office, and wrought serious financial strife at Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Don't look now, but in this remake it's once again "bombs away, look out below."

Clip: "Throw the ball!"
1.4Mb QuickTime movie

Entire theatrical trailer
4Mb QuickTime movie

Paul's Pix: "Dr. Doolittle"
4.5Mb QuickTime movie

Murphy is currently attempting an interesting career transition from adult-theme movies, like "Harlem Nights," to becoming Mister Matinee for kids. First he did his remake of Jerry Lewis' "Nutty Professor."

Now, he's stepping into Harrison's shoes and talking to the animals. His infectious grin and perfect comedic timing are both in place in this film.

But there's no heart and little whimsy in this updated version of "Doctor Dolittle." Instead, you'll find plenty of lowball comedic zingers and butt jokes all aimed at the yuk, yuk level of a 12-year-old boy. Screenwriter Larry Levin is way, way too in touch with his inner child and that child has a dirty mind.

Tiresome adolescent humor

And while there's is nothing intrinsically wrong with adolescent humor, it does get tiresome after a while. Where is the story? Where is any kind of character arch? Where is the plot? Where are the challenges put before our protagonist? Where's the darn movie?

Directed by Betty Thomas, who gave us "The Brady Bunch Movie," this film has that same antiseptic look. There are some good jokey one-liners here and there, used so poorly as to be like tossing pearls before swine. Anything truly funny gets blown aside by the next joke about flatulence.

The voices of the animals are provided by a proverbial who's-who of comedy talent -- Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, John Leguizamo, Norm Macdonald, Albert Brooks, Garry Shandling and Julie Kavner are just a few. And the state-of-the-arts special effects used so effectively in films such as "Babe," are here in abundance. But the star power and special effects add up to very little.

On top of everything, there are also dozens of insider references to other films such as "Free Willy" and "Sling Blade" -- not only gratuitous humor on the part of the producers, but lazy, since these references will never stand the test of time. Of course, neither will this version of "Doctor Dolittle."

This could have been a good film and an improvement on the original, but ultimately there's not much to like about "Doctor Dolittle."

"Doctor Dolittle" is rated PG-13 with a running time of 85 minutes.

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