Toward the end of Steve Carr’s sequel to the 1998 Eddie Murphy hit, the picture’s twin villains–Jeffrey Jones as a greedy lumber tycoon out to bulldoze a California forest, and Kevin Pollak as his seedy lawyer–are bombarded by a Hitchcockian flock of birds in a particularly gross and unsavory fashion as they cross a parking lot. The audience can sympathize with them. For an hour or so they’ve been pelted with a seemingly endless stream of jokes and sight gags involving excrement, urination, and various forms of flatulence. The movie drags on for only twenty minutes more–the running-time, at least, is mercifully brief–but many others follow. The kids at whom the picture is aimed laugh almost automatically as such stuff nowadays, of course, but its prevalence is indicative of the complete poverty of invention that afflicts “Dr. Dolittle 2.” There doesn’t seem to have been the slightest effort to endow it with any charm or cleverness. The picture’s just loud, vulgar and chaotic–a perfect fit, it would seem, with the rest of this year’s Hollywood summer schedule.
The feeble plot devised by Larry Levin centers on Dolittle’s efforts to foil the scheme to annihilate the forest at the behest of the animals who dwell therein (led by a “Godfather” beaver). Aided by his lawyer-wife Lisa (Kristen Wilson), the vet gets a month-long court stay to try to save an endangered species of bear by reintroducing into the wild a performing circus animal named Archie to mate with the sole surviving female there, thereby winning protection for the site. Attention is thus shifted to this bear-out-of-captivity shtick, with Steve Zahn voicing the ursine beast–characterized all too predictably as a dense, klutzy, childishly naive sort who’s supposed to be lovable but comes across as fatally dull. (Anyone who remembers the lumbering star of “Gentle Ben” could have told the filmmakers that bears aren’t the most charismatic of animals, and though Zahn’s an accomplished farceur, on the evidence of this outing he isn’t much of a voiceover artist.) Under Dolittle’s ever-more-stentorian urging (Murphy goes into full screaming mode here), Archie screws up the courage to romance his intended Ava (voiced lackadaisically by Lisa Kudrow), an effort which is intended to be hilarious but barely provokes a chuckle. The doctor also smolders over the rebelliousness of his sixteen-year old daughter Clarisse (Raven-Symone), a singularly bratty kid (she has a reason for her attitude, as we’ll discover) who’s being courted by a good-natured gangsta type, Eric (Lil’ Zane) her father naturally mistrusts; needless to say, she and pop have a warmhearted reconciliation before everything’s done.
This is awfully thin stuff, and though room is made for lots more talking critters–most notably the returning dog Lucky, voiced by Norm Macdonald (who for some reason goes uncredited)– it’s all terribly fragmented and lackluster. A big finale based on the premise of a worldwide strike by animals to save the California trees seems a desperate attempt to add some scope to what’s basically a very small-scaled story. The effort fails. (Another instance of the tendency to inflate things beyond reason is in the set of the Dolittle home: it’s an apartment, but as shot appears to be slightly larger than the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and just about as lavishly furnished.)
As for Murphy, he’s surprisingly nondescript, alternately too subdued and overly frenetic. (At least he still has “Shrek.”) Jones and Pollak make an irritating, unfunny pair of bad guys, and as Dolittle’s family Raven-Symone is simply pouty, and Wilson and Kyla Pratt (as a younger daughter) are instantly forgettable. Among the voice actors Macdonald gets the most exposure, but a few others–Jacob Vargas as a Mexican lizard, Michael Rapaport as a wiseguy racoon, Andy Dick as a weasel–also get a couple of laughs. The effects work is solid enough, though this sort of thing has gotten so familiar that it no longer carries much magic.
So get out the super-dooper-pooper-scooper–this movie’s a real dog.