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What the Rotten Tomatoes reviews are saying about Dolittle

Robert Downey, Jr.'s first starring vehicle after his exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't going over so well with critics.

Dolittle, a reimagining of the character originated in a series of childrens' books and adapted for the screen numerous times, is receiving some absolutely savage critical notices in advance of its release. As of this writing, the flick is certified rotten on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and it'll take a lot more than just a few positive reviews to reverse its fortunes.

In case you're unaware, Dolittle is the first film outside the cozy confines of the MCU to star Downey since 2014's The Judge, and the first time he's starred in a film as somebody other than Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes in almost a decade. He may have become synonymous with a pair of worldwide icons (and, to be fair, it's only due to his portrayal that Stark merits that description), but that apparently doesn't make him immune to getting his ass handed to him by critics — especially when he deigns to star in the kind of stinker that Dolittle apparently is.

As previously mentioned, the good doctor who talks with the animals started gaining popularity in print almost a century ago, and many of his previous film adaptations — including the 1967 version starring Rex Harrison and the 1998 Eddie Murphy starrer, which spawned a phalanx of non-Murphy sequels — have been well-received.

Not so the 2020 version, though, which stands poised to become one of the first major critical bombs of the year, not to mention one of the more poorly-reviewed movies of Downey's entire career.

Why are the critics panning Dolittle?

To simply call the majority of Dolittle's reviews "negative" wouldn't be doing them justice; they're blistering, with absolutely majestic levels of snark. Take this missive from the poison pen of Alonso Duralde of The Wrap: "[Dolittle] plats onto the screen like horse dung, with few laughs and no charm... [it] doesn't have a fraction of the verve of the similarly misguided Cats, but it does share with that movie a staggering amount of 'What were they thinking?' decisions."

Or this, from Variety's Courtney Howard: "[Dolittle] proves to be as predictable as it is obnoxious... What should have been an awe-filled adventure quickly curdles into an awful one, thanks to a pedestrian formula and the filmmakers' fixation on fart jokes."

Other reviewers were a bit more thoughtful, if no less harsh. "Dolittle is the result of the kind of taxidermy that gave us jackalopes," wrote Karen Han of Polygon. "Huge chunks of the animal are missing, and other bits and pieces have been superimposed in a way that doesn't make sense. But there's one key difference between Dolittle and bad taxidermy: At least bad taxidermy is memorable."

Even those critics not quite so inclined to rake the flick over the coals expressed a kind of melancholy disappointment in it that, in a way, is almost worse. ("Dolittle isn't a terrible movie, it's just not an impressive one. It doesn't feel like a waste of time, but perhaps only because it doesn't ask too much," wrote CinemaBlend's Dirk Libbey.) Perhaps the most wicked skewering, though, came from the man most qualified to carry on the legacy of legendary Burnmaster Roger Ebert: his former partner, the Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper. "If I could talk to the animals," wrote Roeper, "I'd say one thing: Please make it stop."

What are the positive reviews saying about Dolittle?

Of course, not all of Dolittle's notices were so vicious, but those recommending the film were few and far between — and even they mostly characterized the film as being okay, for young audiences and those willing to overlook its myriad faults.

Case in point: Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson, who expressed pretty much exactly that opinion. "Technically speaking, Dolittle is a film made for children. So we should probably mostly view it through that lens. In that regard, the movie is perfectly okay," he wrote. "He's endearing, this Dolittle, in his borderline illegible way. Less Johnny Depp lost behind a wig and makeup and more... I guess just Robert Downey, Jr. doing a peculiar little routine. It's a lark seeing him do something other than Iron Man, gamboling about in a different imagined world."

Virtually no positive notices recommended Dolittle unreservedly, as characterized by Christie Cronan of Raising Whasians in her positive notice. "There was so much potential for this family comedy. But heavily relying on animal jokes, physical comedy bits, and a highly eccentric role for RDJ, this movie is fun, but not award winning," she wrote. "Kids will love it. Adults won't hate it... Yes, [such an opinion of Dolittle is] kind of predictable... like the plot."

When even the most positive assessments offer only backhanded praise, your movie might be in serious trouble. Fortunately for Downey, his decade-plus leading the most popular movie franchise on the planet means that even if Dolittle tanks as badly at the box office as it has with critics (which it probably won't, as it already looks like a strong overseas performer), it shouldn't matter much as far as his bankability is concerned.

Dolittle opens wide on January 17.