If there is a formula for the film “Doolittle,” it may well be the following:
Huge budget ($117Million) + Big Name Stars (Robert Downey, Jr., Emma Thompson, Antonio Banderas, Octavia Spencer, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, etc.) + Exotic computer generated images set into sweeping film footage + Talented director (Stephen Gaghan who wrote and directed “Syriana” and won an Academy Award for the script for “Traffic”) + Disconnected and pointless script = “A production that achieves the dubious distinction of combining too-muchness with not-enoughness” (Joe Morgenstern in Wall Street Journal).
“Doolittle” is loosely (emphasis on “loosely”) based on the century-old works of English writer/illustrator Hugh Lofting. It is worth a casual mention that Lofting began creating the series of 15 children’s books while stationed in the trenches of World War l. He wrote and illustrated lengthy letters to his family and, rather than detail the horrors of the war (for reference, watch “1917” in which Sam Mendes captures the grit, the pain and horror in a truly beautiful film), Lofting created a fantasy character, a doctor who shunned human patients and focused on animals, with which he could talk.
It’s a charming concept that has resulted in no fewer than nine films, a television series and multiple stage plays. Sadly, for its embarrassingly large budget and collection of noted stars, the current “Doolittle” is a cinematic disaster. Industry pundits predict that it will lose at least $39 Million.
The obvious question is “Why?” Why make the film in the first place? Why spend all that money on a piece that will take its place among the bigger “bombs” of recent cinematic memory? Could it be a touch of ego?
Robert Downey, Jr. is both the executive producer and the star. His wife is a producer of the film. His on-camera appearances have none of the macho excitement of his ten Tony Stark/Iron Man film appearances and none of the suave genius portrayed in his two outings as Sherlock Holmes.
It becomes too easy to overlook the occasional dialog quip that brings a chuckle from the adults in the audience and to ignore the charm of the animals who entertain the younger set. Viewing the film is not worth the popcorn and soda money, to say nothing of the ticket price. When “Doolittle” appears on a streaming service near you, well … forewarned is forearmed.
“Doolittle” is in wide release, rated PG.