This is turning into Eddie Murphy's creature feature summer, but if you had to pick between the actor playing an animal or simply talking to them, "Dr. Dolittle 2" is not the film to choose.
Yet even if it wasn't burdened with an addiction to relentless bodily function humor, maybe a comparison to the all-powerful "Shrek" wouldn't be fair. The new item is an improvement over the original "Dr. D" (not the most difficult feat, perhaps, but true nevertheless) and features an engaging performance by the continually remarkable Murphy.
But precisely because it is an improvement, "Dr. D 2" is also more depressing than its progenitor. Its successful moments (and they are only moments) remind us that this is a squandered opportunity. With the application of more intelligence and a different sensibility, this could have been a good film instead of one that's content with not being a complete waste of time.
Like "The Mummy Returns," "Dr. D 2" is better for accepting the obvious, which means taking it as a given that the good doctor can actually talk to animals. As related by narrator Lucky, the family dog, we're clued in to the doc's international celebrity and shown the Lourdes-like pandemonium around his house and office as animals and their owners beseech him for his assistance.
All this does not play especially well with the doc's long-suffering wife, Lisa (Kristen Wilson), and his daughters Maya (Kyla Pratt) and Charisse (Raven-Symone). Especially not with Charisse, just turned 16 and frankly embarrassed that her father is an interspecies guru.
For his part, the doc is perturbed to discover that his daughter has acquired a boyfriend in the form of local pizza delivery person Eric (charismatic rapper Lil' Zane), who makes things worse by calling Charisse's father "Pops" as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
In the midst of all this, a creature crisis develops. In an amusing parody of Mafia epics, the doc is summoned to the forest by an officious raccoon (voiced by Michael Rapaport) for a rare audience with the God Beaver (Richard C. Sarafian), who says by way of introduction: "I'm just a simple fisherman who's been blessed with many friends."
However, in a plot twist that will cause jubilation in the offices of Earth First, even these friends are not enough to save the forest from rapacious clear-cutting developer Joseph Potter (Jeffrey Jones) and his weasely lawyer Jack Riley (Kevin Pollak). Only the existence of an endangered species can do that, and when the doc finds Ava, a rare Pacific Western bear (Lisa Kudrow), he thinks the problem is solved.
Not quite. For the plan to work, a male Pacific Western bear must be introduced into the forest, and the only one who can be located is Archie (Steve Zahn), a show biz softy who can be found bathing in a tub when he's not tap-dancing to "I Will Survive." Ava is cool to the doc's idea at first ("I don't talk to bear pimps" are her exact words), but the man is convinced he can get Archie to discover his bearness in time to save the day.
Though most of the Archie action is convincingly played by a real bear named Tank (trained by Doug Seus, who guided Bart the Bear's legendary career), reality gets some nudging via use of animatronics and computer animation. Even in the few years since the original "Dolittle," the visual effects technology of Rhythm & Hues and other companies has made it possible for animal speech and action to be portrayed in a much more lifelike manner.
Also getting better is the redoubtable Murphy, who has brought a subtly subversive air to the squarest role he's ever played. It can't be easy to talk seriously to animals, to say things like "put the raccoon on the phone" and lead Strays Anonymous meetings in chants of "I am somebody's best friend," but Murphy does it. More than that, he manages to convey a kind of hip bemusement at how ridiculous it all is without tampering with the illusion.
If "Dr. D 2" doesn't have a problem getting animals to talk, it is buffaloed when it comes to figuring out what they might be saying. Written by Larry Levin (who shared credit on the last film) and directed by Steve Carr (the Ice Cube-starring "Next Friday"), the film does have its clever moments, but not nearly enough of them to sustain interest. Worse than that, the PG-rated "Dr. Dolittle" simply can't escape its unfortunate obsession with bathroom humor and smarmy sexual references. Everyone knows that the film's target age group is partial to jokes about urination, defecation and large rear ends, but does that make it imperative to tirelessly pander to those tastes? If there isn't a self-help group called Toiletmouths Anonymous, Levin and Carr are qualified to start one.
Dr. Dolittle 2, 2001. PG, for language and crude humor. A Davis Entertainment Company production, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Steve Carr. Producers John Davis. Executive producers Neil Machlis, Joe Singer. Screenplay Larry Levin, based on the novel Dr. Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting. Cinematographer Daryn Okada. Editor Craig P. Herring. Costumes Ruth Carter. Music David Newman. Production design William Sandell. Supervising art director Bruce Crone. Art director Bradford Ricker. Set decorator Robert Gould. Running time: tk hours, minutes. Eddie Murphy as Dr. Dolittle. Kristen Wilson as Lisa Dolittle. Raven-Symone as Charisse Dolittle. Kyla Pratt as Maya Dolittle. Lil' Zane as Eric.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun