Doctor Dolittle (1998)

(On TV, July 2015) “Eddie Murphy as a doctor who can talk to animals; the animals talk back” is the kind of comedy high-concept that seems hard to mishandle, and yet Doctor Dolittle comes remarkably close to it.  The biggest problem of the script seems to be that it can’t figure out whether it’s meant to be a harmless family comedy, or appeal squarely to the dirty-minded 12 years old boys in the audience.  So it is that aside from a wholesome message about taking care of animals, being unafraid of being oneself and being nice to each other, there’s a plot about hospital corporate takeovers, a substantial number of flatulence jokes and one distressing dog-at-the-veterinarian sequence with more anal penetration references than I’m comfortable with in a family movie.  Fortunately, the film stops far short of meanness; still, inappropriate and tasteless is a good way to describe much of its content.  These flaws would have been forgivable if the film had been witty or amusing … alas, it’s predictable almost from the first few minutes, not overly inventive and so broadly executed as to make caricatures out of everyone.  There are a few moments that actually work just fine, and much of the special effects still impress nearly twenty years later.  Murphy himself comes across well, although this roles clearly shows the road to the increasingly insufferable comic performances he would come to deliver in even worse movies.  Doctor Dolittle should have been quite a bit better; more tasteful, more focused, more interesting and certainly more inventive.  As it stands, it’s a mediocre film with tons of wilfully wasted potential.

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