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IN SHORT: Avoid buying the extra large soda. You'll never hold it in.
Eddie Murphy struck gold when he added "straight man" to his repertoire, in last year's The Nutty Professor. The funny streak continues under the guiding hand of director Betty Thomas who, time and time again, has taken extraordinary unappealing ideas and turned them into great entertainment. I'm not talking about the idea of casting Eddie Murphy in a role made famous by Rex Harrison, which was totally wack in and of its self. I'm talking about The Brady Bunch Movie adaptation and trying to make Howard Stern a movie star, in Private Parts. I dreaded watching both and loved 'em both. More recently, I let myself be dragged to the high school party flick Can't Hardly Wait, which Thomas produced, and found myself enjoying that as well.
So here's to Betty Thomas, master of the wack idea.
The laughs in Dr. Dolittle kick in within the first 60 seconds and, for the most part, they rarely stop. There are a healthy number of "aw" moments and a simple, pleasant story. The only caution is that the most of the jokes aim below the belt. While a five-year-old may not understand the jokes about sex, there's nothing funnier, to a five-year-old, than a joke about an animal's butt and/or various below the belt bodily functions -- Doctors lose implements up a butt. Noxious gasses emanate from the butt. You get the picture. Only the most strait laced among you may not laugh. But I wouldn't bet on it, 'cuz there's a five-year-old locked away in us all (as the shrinks on PBS would have us believe). The kids sitting behind me were shrieking and giggling. Their parents were laughing loud enough to obscure the follow up jokes that blast like automatic weapons fire. Rex Harrison's Dr. Dolittle would have been stunned by these beasties.
As we begin, five year old John Dolittle is engrossed in deep conversation with his dog (Ellen DeGeneres), who explains to him some of the most important rules of social interaction. One big butt joke later, an embarrassed father (Ossie Davis) sends the dog into exile. From that moment on, li'l John ceases to talk to the animals.
Timeshift forward to the grown up Dr. John Dolittle (Murphy), a tight-assed, straight-laced San Franciscan with a lovely wife (Kristen Wilson) and two kidlets (Raven-Symoné and Kyla Pratt). Dolittle's medical practice is about to be purchased by an HMO run by Peter Boyle, making him and his partners (Oliver Platt and Richard Schiff) $4 million richer. All is well with the world.
But a traumatic event shocks the doc and unleashes the talent that has lain dormant for years. As the various wild animals discover that a human -- no less a doctor! -- can speak their language, they flock to his door. Dolittle finds himself with an incredible word of mouth practice. The only problem is that animals are an insistent bunch and don't respect office hours. Before you know it, everyone around Dolittle thinks he is out of his mind. That's about all you need to know. Sit back and enjoy the gags, both the ones dialogued by screenwriters Nat Maulden and Larry Levin and the visuals dreamed up by Betty Thomas.
As funny as Eddie Murphy can be, he allows a celebrity co-star cast to steal the flick, letting them have the best jokes as they provide voices for the multitude of animals that the good doctor can converse with. Principal voices include Chris Rock as a guinea pig with good musical taste (he can sing Bob Dylan and James Brown. Not well, but he gets an "A" for effort); Gilbert Gottfried as a terrier with a ball retrieval obsession; Phil Proctor (anyone remember the Firesign Theater???) as an alcoholic monkey; Garry Shandling and Julie Kavner as argumentative pigeons, Reni Santori and John Leguizamo as a pair of rats. Norm MacDonald, who mastered the art of the comical aside during his tenure on Saturday Night Live, should get top billing as the movie's top dog, named Lucky. Listen closely and you may pick out Jenna Elfman, Paul Reubens, Jonathan Lipnicki and Brian Doyle- Murray, too.
Though the jokes aim low, they are not the sum total of the flick. Though the story is simple and, in this case, simple is all you need. Cranky doesn't recall any nasty words in the movie that would make him advise against taking the kids. If anything, Dr. Dolittle will do killer biz as a vid. It's funny enough to do killer at the theaters, too.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dr. Dolittle, he would have paid . . .
If I had a couple of kidlets in tow and I'd happily see it again. I may do it anyway. Cranky's inner child is a noisy, insistent sucker.
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