The blurb tells us that Robert Downey Jr “electrifies” one of literature’s most enduring characters. “Electrocutes” is probably the word they are looking for.
Dolittle isn’t absolutely awful, but it’s a crashing disappointment, never truly getting over the bizarre accent Downey adopts throughout, offering us a Dolittle who’s a kind of failed Tom Jones tribute act.
Around him is a menagerie of animals with similarly mismatched ways of speaking. Not a single one of the animals actually suggests the voice they are given, and most of them are annoying in degrees from fairly to very.
If ever a film was going to get a super-irritating wise-cracking insect sidekick, this was it… a film which can’t even be saved by a colonically-blocked dragon who then erupts with earth-shattering flatulence.
You long for this film to be even fleetingly funny. It isn’t. The attempted jokes thud and the whole thing starts to seem far longer than its 101 minutes.
There are Harry Potterish critters and dungeons, but there is none of the magic; and while Downey clearly attempts the dishevelment and swagger of Captain Jack Sparrow, he barely achieves a limp. It just doesn’t come to life. There’s too much CGI and not enough wit.
The gist is that Dolittle is a widowed recluse, mourning his lost love in his overgrown country pile. But then his country comes calling in the shape of young Queen Victoria, desperately ill and needing a cure which can be found only at the end of an epic sea journey to an exotic land. None of which adds much colour to anything.
The only thought it leaves you with is how cruel it is to give us Jessie Buckley (so brilliant in Wild Rose) and then asks her to lie there apparently moribund for the duration.
The ending does perk up just a little, and you have to acknowledge it when you clearly aren’t the target audience.
But it’s a film which is too often annoying, too often completely flat, plodding in its dialogue and utterly bereft of any tension. In fact, it will one day make perfect Christmas Day viewing when you’re ready for your post-Christmas lunch nap.
If only they’d lined up voices and animals better; if only Dolittle hadn’t decided he was Welsh...