Dr. Dolittle

on June 26, 1998 by Bridget Byrne
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   This movie is not fair to either man or beast. It makes all creatures seem annoying, charmless, noisy, witless and unfunny--unless you are fond of toilet and arse jokes.
   Whatever the theory behind this attempt at an update of the fable about a Victorian vet who really understood his patients, it was simply a very bad idea to turn it into angst comedy starring Eddie Murphy. Murphy seems constricted and uncomfortable around the animals, which is not surprising as their innate attraction has been destroyed by overuse of modern technical tricks such as animatronics and digital enhancement.
   The framework for the plot casts Murphy as a workaholic doctor neglectful of his family who is ultimately re-humanized by weird circumstances, a cliche situation which has been worked to death in Hollywood in one form or another. With Murphy essentially reduced to the straight-man part, the animals have to carry the tune, except there's not even a song like "Talk to the Animals" which made the l967 version of this story, starring Rex Harrison, seem more palatable than it actually was. So instead they're stuck with adolescent stand-up comedy. Furthermore, there's no two-headed lama among them; they're just a very irritating bunch of average birds and mammals who have much too much to say for themselves to no good purpose. The celebrity voices--for example Norm Macdonald as Lucky, the mutt who re-awakens Dolittle's memory of his childhood rapport with dogs, Chris Rock as a manic guinea pig and Albert Brooks as a sick tiger--seem to have been chosen on a who's-available basis and provide no insight into either the general or specific nature of the animals they portray.
   But at least those performers can't be seen making a fool of themselves. That's not the fate of comic foils like Oliver Platt, Peter Boyle and Jeffrey Tambor who show up in person in roles so crudely drawn they can't even upstage Murphy, even though his comic gifts are completely stifled in the most thankless role of all. Starring Eddie Murphy. Directed by Betty Thomas. Written by Nat Mauldin and Larry Levin. Produced by John Davis, Joseph M. Singer and David T. Friendly. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for crude humor and language. Running time: 85 min
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