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Dr. Dolittle

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dr. Dolittle

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis
Director: Betty Thomas
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: June 1998
Genres: Comedy, Family

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If you talk at length to your dog, don't worry about it. Everyone does. When the dog starts answering you, then you've got problems. Or do you? If only the world accepted such a two-way communication both you and they would be better off. You'd learn something about yourself relayed straight from the horse's mouth from their four-legged views and might even become as human as the animals themselves are.

With this in mind, Betty Thomas--perhaps most celebrated by teens and adults for directing Howard Stern in "Private Parts" and for subteens for helming the squarest of the square families in "The Brady Bunch Movie"--seems eager to bring a strong moral point home to her mostly small-fry audience, a suggestion that will be most appreciated by the adults who are escorted by them. One is that doctors--and even people--should relate to their fellow living creatures as ends in themselves and not for what others can do to advance their careers and income. She takes aim against the shoddy practices of HMO's and should find little dissension in the audience for that posture.

The movie opens on little John Dolittle, played as a three- year-old by Raymond Matthew Mason and by a five-year-old by Dari Gerard Smith. The kid has is precocious. He has a way with animals and like St. Francis is devoted to gabbing with them, though at this stage of development he does not get a reply. Many years later, when John (Eddie Murphy) has become a successful doctor with a lovely wife, Lisa (Kristen Wilson), he almost strikes a stray dog with his van. When the dog, at first appearing dead, rises, the animal remarks "Why don't you look where you're going, you bonehead?" No explanation is given for Dolittle's new ability, though a blatant product placement implies it might have been the Dunkin' Donuts he had just eaten. In no time flat, the title character colloquies with his daughter's guinea pig, a couple of rats fighting in a trash bin, a tiger in a circus, until he is packed off to a mental institution. His partner, Dr. Mark Weller (Oliver Pratt), is concerned that John's behavior will ruin a lucrative HMO buyout deal, and his wife wonders why he frequently wanders off just when she feels her seductive powers working on him. The only understanding folks are his daughter Maya (Kyla Pratt), who already considers herself weird and a misfit and thereby identifies with dad; and John's father Archer (Ossie Davis) who sees John's dialogues as a gift.

Since special effects at a high stage of development, the audience has no problem really believing that the animals are mouthing the words, be they owls, rodents, goats, ducks, dogs or cats. As for lines, the best belong not to Eddie Murphy but to the four-legged creatures, though Oscar Wilde has nothing to fear from them. For example, in the pound as one dog is being led to his death, another behind the cage remarks "Dead dog walking." A German shepherd in the vet's office whines, "Don't fix me...I won't look at another female," but when an attractive collie passes by, he can't resist: "Yo, baby!" A horse carrying a mounted police officer remarks, "Oh, look, a doughnut shop!" and one large woman's pet comments as his owner bends over, "Isn't that the biggest ass you've ever seen?"

"Dr. Doolittle" is not "Masterpiece Theater" and no way can it compete with the stories in Hugh Lofting's book, but it's a heck of a lot better--less pretentious--that the overproduced musical of the same name starring Rex Harrison that almost wrecked Fox in 1967. Eddie Murphy seems headed down the route of Jim Carrey--less manic, more somber messaging, and he does just fine.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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