When director Steve Carr took over the reigns on the 2000 "Friday" sequel, "Next Friday," I was hesitant to allow him the benefit of the doubt. A former music video director, Carr took the repellent edges off "Next Friday" and molded a silly, energetic comedy that was miles ahead of its predecessor. Unfortunately, this led to expectations that he could do the same for "Dr. Dolittle 2" (IMDb listing).
1998's "Dr. Dolittle" was a travesty of filmmaking. A monstrosity of a comedy that somehow, some way connected with families and became one of the highest grossing films of that year. Directed by the loathsome Betty Thomas ("28 Days," "The Brady Bunch Movie"), "Dr. Dolittle" was steeped in toilet humor and starred a bewildered Eddie Murphy, who could never quite get comfortable playing against the beasts of the wild. Three years later, Murphy reprises his role as the doctor who can magically "talk" to animals. This time Dolittle is called into the wildlife to help an endangered circus bear (voiced by Steve Zahn) mate with a wild bear (Lisa Kudrow) and produce vital offspring that will help save a forest from evil developers (Kevin Pollak, Jeffrey Jones). Bringing along his family for the ride (Kristin Wilson, Raven-Symone), Dolittle finds himself in charge of an inexperienced circus bear who doesn't know the first thing about living in the wild and needs the doctor's help to master his new surroundings.
I went into "Dr. Dolittle 2" with the best intentions. Like a mantra, I repeated to myself over and over that there were going to be childish bathroom gags, and that I should just go with the flow and try to enjoy them. Happy to see Carr taking over for Thomas, I was also expecting a sillier film that understood its premise enough to not bog it down with the needless drama that sunk the climax of the first film. While Carr does a nice job keeping the spirits high and the pace a little snappier, "Dr. Dolittle 2" continues to subscribe a little too closely to broad, "family-friendly" humor and bathroom jokes that even Murphy seems surprised by.
And those bathroom gags don't even really come out in the first hour of the film. As if Carr lost his nerve and made the group decision to go for the easy laugh, the picture's second half is where the jokes and comedic set pieces suddenly lose their respectability. One sequence where Dolittle and the bear are stuck in a diner bathroom, and the bear is about use the men's room in a big way is a good example of just how wrong "Dr. Dolittle 2" is capable of going.
I really don't have much of a right to complain about the toilet jokes, since this type of comedy certainly worked for the first installment. Yet plugs for the Sierra Club, and the not-so-thinly-disguised environmental subplot suggest to me that the picture had its eyes set on bigger things, and that the poo jokes are only a means to get to them. That's admirable, but a chore to sit through.
It's a gentler "Dolittle" this time around, with this new film rated PG (the original was PG-13). The picture is mapped out right from the beginning to allow for a less tasteless experience, so then why cast a group of comedians and actors known for their vulgar backgrounds? Besides Eddie Murphy, the cast includes Norm MacDonald, Kevin Pollak, and Cedric the Entertainer. Everybody seems to be playing suspiciously muted this time around, just waiting for the moment they can ditch this sugary material and move on to something with a little more teeth on it.
"Dolittle 2" does have some laughs in it, and they come courtesy of Eddie Murphy. Always worth watching, Murphy is at his very domesticated best in this film. It's a little odd to see Murphy play a parent, since I still enjoy his sassy, "street" side so much. Dropping by in his first acting gig is rapper Lil' Zane as a potential suitor for Dolittle's daughter, and these scenes bring out the best in Murphy when it comes to the protective "dad" comedy.
An actor that always is at his best when playing off others, Murphy is somewhat hampered by his lack of co-stars in the movie. Often playing next to nothing (the bear was added later into their shared scenes), Murphy almost loses a lung trying to keep the animal scenes alive with his breathless abandon. Forced to skip past his normal barrage of obscenities, Murphy is reduced to exasperated expressions and constipated verbal skills. The light in Murphy's performance comes out when the film focuses more on his family, and the opportunity it brings to interact with actual actors. Murphy's energy single-handedly keeps "Dolittle 2" as marginally entertaining as it is.
The best compliment I can pay to "Dr. Dolittle 2" is that it's at least better than the original film. Still, the reliance on flatulence humor and stale plotting keep this adventure from being anything more than a serviceable family film.
Filmfodder Grade: C-