Dr. Dolittle 3

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/22/06 20:44:23

"Can you actually make a movie without the title character? Sadly, yes."
1 stars (Sucks)

Once again, we’re being handed another direct-to-video sequel that nobody really wanted to see, one that just enough people will rent or buy out of curiosity (or, more likely, laziness) that it will become profitable enough to give the studios and excuse when they want to make another one.

This week’s culprit: “Dr. Dolittle 3,” in which Fox hopes that we’ll be so won over by the franchise’s return that we won’t notice that Eddie Murphy isn’t in it. (Although I have to ask: which of you actually wanted a “Dr. Dolittle 2?”) We do get Kyla Pratt returning to play Maya Dolittle, the teenage daughter from the first two films; she, too, can talk to the animals, although she’s not a doctor, so perhaps the title is a bit off. We also get the lovely Kristen Wilson back for a third go, once again as the beleaguered Mrs. Dolittle. Her role is reduced to pretending to talk to Eddie Murphy on the phone, thus creating the illusion of an actual sequel filled with Murphy-approved family hilarity. If the trick seems familiar, think back to the later seasons of “Happy Days,” the dreaded Ted McGinley years, in which the cast would occasionally call up a not-really-there Ron Howard, who left the show years before to get killed in Vietnam or whatever the hell it was that happened to Richie. But I digress.

To keep the renters from thinking too much about the title character’s absence, the plot sends Maya to a dude ranch for the summer. You see, Maya’s getting heat from her fellow teenagers for her animal communication skills, and the pressure to be down with the A-crowd was leading her to sneak out to massive parties where everyone sees her trying to shoo away a monkey, and they all start to dance the way she’s moving, et cetera. Getting shipped off to a ranch camp run by John Amos is just what she needs to find herself - and learn what it means to be true to herself, cue the “heartfelt lessons” music.

I’m not kidding about the music, either. The movie has an awkward, almost schizophrenic rhythm to it, one in which the more slapsticky moments are clumsily interrupted so Maya can have a talk with the family dog (voiced by Norm MacDonald) about “fitting in” and “being honest” and “helping others” and other lessons they used to spend entire episodes of “Fat Albert” discussing. The very second the dog opens his mouth, in comes the Very Special Music, clubbing you over the head to let you know that this is the Serious Part of the Movie, so pay attention, kids.

But back to the ranch. There are many kids here, but aisde from Maya, we only get to meet three of them: the Fat Guy Who Cracks Wise, the Skinny Dork, and the Mean Preppie Who’s Competing With Maya For the Affections of John Amos’ Son. (Yeah, there’s plenty of unresolved ickiness in that subplot, considering they’re supposed to be seventeen and I think he’s somewhere in his twenties.) All three do their one-dimensional duties well enough to earn a spot in the big rodeo at the end - the one in which (and oh, how I wish this were a joke) they must compete against the Evil Ranch From Across the Way That’s Scheming To Buy Out the Good Ranch.

Yes, folks, with “Dr. Dolittle 3,” Fox has made a kid-friendly equivalent of a lousy 80s summer camp comedy. Yipes.

I keep wanting to say how it’s not all bad - despite its lame-brained ways, it’s quite harmless, and younger kids’ll enjoy themselves enough, I suppose - but then my brain keeps pushing forward memories of Kyla Pratt singing some “hick-hop” (regrettably, this is an actual musical genre) at a country bar; MacDonald getting stuck saying stuff like “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!;” an entire scene built on rooster impotency jokes that peak with “Talk about a cock-a-doodle-don’t!;” and Gary Busey’s maniacal, half-drunken voice, which we hear coming from the lips of a wild stallion. And I already mentioned the big dance scene at the beginning.

“Dr. Dolittle 3” isn’t so much poorly made as it is lazy and cheap. The whole thing feels like a forgettable movie made for the Disney Channel, or maybe ABC Family. The most effort the makers put into this cash-grab quickie seems to have been figuring out new ways to joke about how much Fat Guy loves doughnuts, ha ha. Sure, it’ll hold the little ones’ attention for a little while, in the same sense that reruns of “Zoey 101” will, but does that make it worth a curiosity rental? For the answer to that, just ask Eddie Murphy. We’re pretending he’s on the phone right now.

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