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Doctor Dolittle (1998)
Rated PG13

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, and Oliver Platt

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Eddie Murphy's certainly gotten a career boost out of remaking old 1960's movies, hasn't he? 1996's The Nutty Professor was funny, but in a sort of crude, unpleasant way. Doctor Dolittle is funny and crude too, but with less of the latter and more of the former.

Murphy plays Dr. John Dolittle, who as a child could talk to the animals. When his father (Ossie Davis) thought the ability cost him friends and a "normal" life, he forbid John to speak to animals ever again. John went on to carve out quite a nice life for himself, becoming a doctor who's practice is about to be purchased by a large company. That'll make him and his partners (Oliver Platt and Richard Schiff) very wealthy.

But, when John almost runs over a dog and tries to avoid it, bumping his head in the process, he regains his ability to talk to animals. (Just in time to hear the dog call him a "bonehead.") Thinking he's losing his mind, he frantically tries to deny he's hearing anything out of the ordinary. The animals, however, know he can understand them and they start to seek him out. With his sanity frayed, the deal involving the sale of his practice becomes jeopardized and John must reassess what's important in life.

If you're expecting this movie to bear any resemblance to the old musical it's based on, think again. The content's been given a facelift for the 1990's Beavis & ButtHead crowd, with the inevitable inclusion of fart and potty humor. It's nothing serious, but this isn't the type of movie you'd put on a double-bill with Mulan or Beauty and the Beast. Check the rating, parents -- it's not for little kids.

Murphy's not the center of attention comedy-wise. He plays the straight man, mostly, to an extremely well-casted bunch of voices, including Chris Rock as a pissed-off guinea pig and Albert Brooks as a suicidal tiger. Murphy's probably the weakest link in the film's chain because he's really not in the type of role that showcases his brand of humor like The Nutty Professor allowed him to do. He's not awful by any means but anyone could have played his role. It's nice to see him in another hit (and his voice in Mulan, another money maker, isn't hurting his career either) but I'd like to see him in a role that allows him to be funny and the center of attention again.

That aside, it's pretty easy to enjoy this film. The special effects, by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Banned from the Ranch, convey the idea of talking animals perfectly. The humor, though crude in spots, is consistently funny. One can't ask too much from a summer comedy film and this one delivers everything one could expect.

Trivia: Oliver Platt was an associate producer for 1996's Big Night, which starred Minnie Driver and Isabella Rossellini. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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