Tuesday, June 15, 2010

White Elephant Blogathon: Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts

For the White Elephant Blogathon, in which participants submit movie suggestions into a pool and agree to write about a randomly chosen selection from another person, I was hoping to get something entertainingly bad or mind-bogglingly weird (selections are usually obscure and/or awful), but instead I ended up with the thoroughly innocuous Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts, the fifth (!!) entry in the person-talks-to-animals series, and the third to go straight to DVD. Eddie Murphy, who played the titular doctor in 1998's Dr. Dolittle and 2001's Dr. Dolittle 2, is nowhere to be found, and instead the star of this film (from 2009) and the two before it is Kyla Pratt, who plays teenage Maya Dolittle and is the only actor to have appeared in all five movies.

Maya's dad appears to be conveniently out of town in these movies (this time he's "helping the pandas in China for a month"), and her younger sister has possibly been written out. Her entire family is represented by her mom, not played by the same actress as in the first two movies (although the original actress did soldier through one Murphy-less installment before giving up). Maya, like her dad, talks to animals, although not nearly as many of them as in the big-screen entries in the series. In this film, Maya gets caught up in the Hollywood machine when she helps a Paris Hilton-like heiress with her handbag dog and somehow ends up with her own TV show. Cue important lessons about hard work, not forgetting where you come from, not getting caught up in the celebrity machine, etc. It's all completely harmless and executed with the bare minimum of competence to qualify for rentals by desperate parents and periodic airings on ABC Family (director Alex Zamm was previously responsible for such masterpieces as Inspector Gadget 2, starring French Stewart, and the legendary Carrot Top vehicle Chairman of the Board).

The one element holding my interest is the somewhat baffling presence of Norm MacDonald, who's voiced Maya's trusty dog sidekick Lucky in all of the Dolittle movies, although for some reason he's been uncredited since the first one. Lucky is easily the second most important character in the movie, and as such MacDonald has plenty of lines, which he delivers in his trademark deadpan so that every single utterance from Lucky's clumsily computer-animated mouth sounds like it's dripping with contempt. MacDonald doesn't say anything that's actually funny, but the way he delivers certain lines, like he's amazed at how stupid they are, makes them funnier than they have any right to be. It's sort of like the anti-comedy of his infamous Bob Saget roast appearance.

Of course, 99 percent of the audience for this movie won't get that, and it's certainly not enough to recommend seeing it. But since I had to sit there anyway, it at least gave me something to focus on. I had hoped for a fascinatingly weird movie; I at least got one with a fascinatingly weird performance.

My submission to the Blogathon was the camp classic Gymkata, enthusiastically covered here by Steve Carlson. I wrote about it as part of my Reader-Submitted Film Festival for Las Vegas Weekly.

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