Sequels just never measure up to their predecessors. Every now and then it happens -- a la Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Rescuers Down Under -- but those are the exceptions.
The original Eddie Murphy comedy Dr. Dolitte was a lukewarm and tepid yet entertaining movie filled with cheap laughs, terrible acting, and a painful reminder of Murphy's slow decent into another slump. But alas, the studio gods spoke and a sequel became unavoidable when the original Dr. Dolittle (er, the original Eddie Murphy Dolittle, itself being a remake) grossed over $290 million dollars worldwide -- not including sales from the hip-hop soundtrack.
Well, Murphy has lost the nappy deadlocks of the first film and again takes on the role of the intrepid animal doctor/interpreter Dr. Dolittle in Dr. Dolittle 2. This time around, Dolittle has honed his communication skills and runs a joint animal and human medical office in beautiful San Francisco. Over the past few years, Dolittle has become the Sigmund Freud of the animal kingdom -- providing sexual advice to a turtle with erectile dysfunction, overseeing support groups for stray dogs, and guest-starring on Crocodile Hunter.
One night, a raccoon with a thick Brooklyn accent shows up at his door and requests that the Doc meet with The Beaver -- the head of some type of animal Mafia in the Marin County forests. The Beaver requests that the Doc stop a evil logging company -- controlled by Jeffery Jones and Kevin Pollak -- from clear-cutting the homes of all of the forest dwellers. The only way to save the forest lies in the loins of an endangered species of bear named Archie (voiced by Steve Zahn), whom the Doc has to retrain in how to live in the wild so he can mate with another bear named Ava (voiced by Lisa Kudrow). If Archie and Ava do the mystery dance and produce little Archies and Avas, the forest would then be deemed off-limits from the clutches of evil logging company. The only problem is that Archie is a circus bear who best knows how to dance to disco and has the demeanor of Woody Allen -- Wayne Newton in a bear suit. So its up to the Doc to teach Archie how to be the alpha male of the wild, save the forest from the overacting of Kevin Pollak, learn how to communicate with his own human family, and somehow make us believe that a talking monkey has a drinking problem.
Dr. Dolittle 2 could've been a contender. In a decade of film - Nutty Professor II, Bowfinger, Life, Holy Man, Metro, A Vampire in Brooklyn, Beverly Hills Cop III, and Boomerang -- Murphy has done little worth remembering. But in Dr. Dolittle 2, Murphy gives one of his better performances in recent years. He seems looser, more interested in the role, and gives fleeting glimpses of that energetic and sharp humor that made him so famous in the '80s. Still, he seems reserved and unsure about how to work in this brave new world of family films and wholesome entertainment.
The voice talent is where the gold lies. Steve Zahn's dry wit and apathy give Archie the Bear the comedic edge it needs to compliment the excellent training of the animal (coupled with his CGI manipulation). Norm MacDonald returns in his role of the wisecracking family dog Lucky and provides added humor. The various voice talents of Cedric The Entertainer, Michael Rappaport, Kudrow, and Molly Shannon are witty but don't draw attention away from the amazing animatronics of the talking animals.
But Dolittle 2 suffers from a serious identity crisis and, like the original, never really sells the humanization of its animal characters. Worse still, the film constantly veers among being a Hallmark special, an environmentalist call to arms, a cheap rip-off of a Farrelly brothers comedy complete with fart and poop jokes, and a family film about cute animals and important messages like "being yourself and never compromising your dreams."
Even with its flaws, Dr. Dolittle 2 is a decent matinee movie for the kiddies. The film also provides enough humor for those grown-ups in the audience brave enough to sit through 90 plus minutes of endless product placements, Eddie Murphy playing Dean Martin to the Jerry Lewis antics of a talking bear, and the bear singing "I Will Survive." [For a very special treat try watching Max karaoke "I Will Survive." -Ed.]
Let's just call that a warning.
Does a bear go in the woods... or the tub?