Dr. Dolittle 2 (United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

About the most positive comment I can offer about Dr. Dolittle 2 is that it's not as painful to endure as its 1998 predecessor, Dr. Dolittle. Unlike the earlier Eddie Murphy effort about the M.D. who can talk with animals, the second installment makes no pretense of being family-oriented entertainment - this is kids-only fare (hence, the PG-rating). Potentially audience members over the age of 12 won't find much to laugh at or be amused by in this by-the-numbers comedy that uses sledgehammer tactics to convey its politically correct message. Of course, to balance out the film's social conscience, there has to be one gross-out scene - in this case, it involves a bear with flatulence.

Many of the principal characters have returned - the good doctor, his uninteresting wife, Lisa (Kristen Wilson, who couldn't be more plastic if she tried), and his two kids, perky Maya (Kyla Pratt) and rebellious Charisse (Raven-Symone). This time around, Dr. Dolittle is on a crusade to save a forest that a lumber company plans to clear-cut, and the mean-spirited Mr. Potter (Jeffrey Jones playing a villain inspired by the bad guy in It's a Wonderful Life) and his sleazy lawyer (Kevin Pollak) will do anything to stop him. Dolittle believes that if he can repopulate an endangered species of bear in the area, the courts will have to refuse permission to cut. So it's up to him to convince a city bear (voiced by the laconic Steve Zahn) and a country bear (Lisa Kudrow) to get together and make a few cubs. Meanwhile, in a subplot that could have been stolen from a bad TV sitcom, Dolittle is having problems with his 16-year old offspring, Charisse, who has discovered boys and the desire to be free of her parents' strings.

Dr. Dolittle 2 is saddled with a juvenile screenplay aimed squarely at a grade-school audience. No attempt is made to include more than an occasional sly reference or clever aside for older viewers. The humor, like everything else, is geared towards pint-sized patrons, who are apt to laugh at any funny facial expression and the occasional (or, in some cases, not-so-occasional) expulsion of gas. For an adult, the comedy quotient is low - although not as low as that of the first film. Predictably, the loudest laughter at the screening I attended occurred during the flatulence scene, with Dolittle trapped in a small room desperately trying to inhale fresh air through a partially open window. I don't think I have found this kind of thing funny since I hit puberty, and certainly not since I graduated junior high school. (I sometimes wonder if people really find this stuff humorous, or if they laugh because they know it's expected.)

It's a little ironic that Eddie Murphy, once known for his raw and uncompromising comedy, has appeared in two PG-rated films this summer. Even more intriguing is that the animated one, Shrek, is far more sophisticated and intelligent than the live-action one, Dr. Dolittle 2. One could successfully argue that Murphy is this movie's sole redeeming feature. He's not in peak form, but he comes across as relaxed and his performance is unforced. Sadly, he's not funny enough to rescue the proceedings. The lackluster special effects (the animal "lip synching" is awful) and pedestrian direction (by relative unknown Steve Carr) don't help matters. About the most fun to be had by the average adult trapped in a theater showing this movie will be playing "guess the animal voice" - Norm Macdonald, Molly Shannon, Lisa Kudrow, Steve Zahn, and so on.

Dr. Dolittle 2 exists solely because Dr. Dolitle was financially successful (it raked in $144 million domestically). Like a couple of recent sequel bombs, 102 Dalmatians and Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, the absence of a strong plot-related motivation for the movie has led to complete creative bankruptcy. Perhaps the best decision made by the producers was to aim Dr. Dolittle 2 at children. Since they're far less discriminating than adults, they won't notice the avalanche of problems that will be immediately apparent to every mature movie-goer attracted by the lure of Eddie Murphy and a menagerie of digitally and animatronically enhanced creatures.

Dr. Dolittle 2 (United States, 2001)

Run Time: 1:22
U.S. Release Date: 2001-06-22
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1