After many delays, Dolittle has finally arrived and with more red flags than fanfare. It’s a bad sign when a movie has been in production for two years, including heavy reshoots, rewrites, and post-production retooling. It’s a worse sign when its release date gets bumped not once but twice. Worst of all, Universal is dropping Robert Downey Jr.’s $175 million adventure in the dumping ground that is January. Then came the trailers that were roundly mocked online. And yet, I suspected I might love Dolittle. As a kid, I adored Hugh Lofting’s children’s novels about the quirky doctor who could talk to animals. To this day, I hold a sincere affection for the campy charms of the 1967 adaptation, Doctor Dolittle, which starred a jaunty Rex Harrison. And in past Januarys, I’ve proved an earnest defender of Monster Trucks and Serenity, maligned movies that were just too damn strange to be marketed to the mainstream. So I clung to hope that despite its flaws and checkered past, there might be something in this remake to celebrate. I was wrong. Dolittle is an incoherent omnishambles that is astoundingly awful. Loosely based on The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Dolittle begins not with its eponymous eccentric, but with a boy called Stubbins (a bland Harry Collett), who comes from a family of hunters but has a soft spot for animals. Desperate to save a squirrel he’s reluctantly shot, Stubbins seeks out the now reclusive Doctor Dolittle (Downey), fatefully intruding as a royal mission falls into the animal lover’s lap. So, with a menagerie of animals, the pair set off on a sea voyage in search of an undiscovered island. Along the way, they’ll face towering warships, a deadly dragon, and a sexy, sulking pirate played by newly minted Academy Award-nominee Antonio Banderas. So, it’s not all bad. But it is bad. [widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=the-worst-reviewed-movies-of-2019&captions=true”] The premise is a fine jumping-off point to unfurl spectacular set-pieces and plenty of animal shenanigans. But Dolittle is structured like it was written by a room full of monkeys lazily banging on typewriters between shit-slinging, then cut together by a blind man with broken fingers. An animated opening sequence does a ton of work to set up the characters and a bruising backstory. Then Emma Thompson — as the plucky parrot Polynesia — delivers exposition dumps throughout in voiceover that does an embarrassing amount of heavy lifting. Forget transition scenes. Thompson’s chipper voice is here for storytime, as if we’re flipping the page on a picture book instead of watching a massively budgeted movie directed by the acclaimed helmer of Syriana, Stephen Gaghan. It’s genuinely jarring how the film leaps in time and location without warning or much explanation. You might well wonder if you drifted off and missed a scene here or there, like the one where Dolittle apparently escapes from a palace full of armed and furious pirates. Characters aren’t so much introduced as chucked in haphazardly, like James, a motor-mouthed dragonfly voiced by Jason Mantzoukas. Who is James? Why does Dolittle trust him on this mission? What is he even trusting him to do? No time for explanations. We have another bizarre action sequence to barrel into! The editing here should be examined in film schools as a prime example of what not to do. It’s as if the filmmaking team has a grudge against match-on-action cuts. So again and again in one shot to the next, a character jolts from point A to point B without the connective tissue of their crossing. It’s not edgy jump cuts. It’s sloppy. And it happens in sequence after sequence involving Dolittle confronting carefully crafted CGI-animals. So, I began to wonder if the shoot went so poorly that Gaghan just didn’t get the raw materials to make a cut that isn’t an absolute eyesore. Or was there some ruthless studio note that demanded the family film have an accessibly lean runtime (1 hour and 46 minutes), which led the editing team to frantically shave seconds by chopping out the middle of actions? Either possibility speaks to the disaster that Dolittle is. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2019/12/10/dolittle-auditions-video] Further evidence of a troubling “fix it in post” mentality can be found in the film’s absurd amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording), a common tool that is criminally abused here. A lot of the promoted cast (Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, and Ralph Fiennes) are voicing CG animals. So much of their dialogue can be smoothly tweaked in post to punch up jokes or smooth out exposition drops, then animation created accordingly. What’s striking is how much of the onscreen talent won’t be shown saying their lines. This hints at how heavily rewritten Dolittle must have been. If you tried to track this as a drinking game, you’d probably pass out before the end of the second act. ‘Okay,’ You might be thinking, ‘So, technically, it’s a mess. But is it entertaining?’ Not really. Among the more baffling decisions in Dolittle, their leading doctor is presented as a grief-stricken grump who begins the movie with a comically long depression beard. The crackling charm that Downey brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is drowned in his dour pantomimes as Dolittle pines for the wife who is fridged so fast that it’d make Christopher Nolan blush. This woe-is-me widower angle sucks the fun out of Doctor Dolittle, leaving us with a barrage of creature cohorts who are mostly a bunch of one-note jokes come to life, like the duck who confuses green vegetables for surgical tools. Repeatedly. This is the only joke three-time Academy Award-nominee Octavia Spencer is given as Dab-Dab the duck. While there are bits with some bite (like a dark joke Nanjiani’s ostrich makes about an omelet), the only wholly successful element of Dolittle is its villain. Michael Sheen plays Dr. Blair Müdfly, personal doctor to the queen of England and rival to the legendary Dolittle. Where Downey is fumbling with a clumsy Welsh accent and mawkish melancholy, Sheen is on fire, incensed by Müdfly’s jealousy and embracing this property’s camp past. With a severe goatee, bulging eyes, and a voice ever on the verge of breaking into a squeal of rage, Sheen gifts this fumbling film a surge of energy and hilarious pettiness. Perhaps the joke that proved the most silly yet satisfying is when Dolittle mutters that the man is a “chinless wonder,” then the cut leaps across leagues of open ocean to Müdfly’s warship where he’s looking through a spyglass and yelps, “I think he said something about my chin!” Sheen is the only one who seems to truly embrace what over-the-top fun this could have been. Bless him.