Rated PG - Running Time: 1:22 - Released 6/22/01

If Eddie Murphy's turn as Dr. Dolittle (1998) was marginally humorous and largely uninspired, his follow-up, Dr. Dolittle 2, is downright lame. Directed by Steve Carr (whose only other film to date has been the equally forgettable Next Friday) and written by Larry Levin, this film is the most transparent of bottom-line focused sequels, charging the same ticket price but employing less of everything that made the first one palatable: less interesting conflict, less effective humor, and fewer recognizable voices playing the animals. What's more, while this is ostensibly a kids' movie (no self-respecting adult would attend without youngsters in tow), the main plot involves a subject that is really too mature for children to enjoy or understand: the sexual habits of a pair of bears, a pair of dogs, and a pair of teenagers. As with the '98 film, there are fart jokes (which surely get the biggest laughs), but Murphy's part in this movie is not so much animal doctor as animal Dr. Ruth.

Although Dr. John Dolittle has become famous for being verbally conversant with his beastly patients, the situation puts a strain on his family relationships, especially regarding his teen daughter Charisse (Raven-Symone), who would rather lock herself in her room or visit her boyfriend (Lil' Zane) than attend family gatherings. This problem comes to a head when a Sicilian-sounding raccoon (Michael Rapaport) comes to the Dolittle home and introduces Dr. D. to a Mafia-type organization of woodland creatures. It seems the Don (a beaver voiced by Norm Macdonald) wants the doctor to pressure the logging company to stop clear-cutting the forest.

John's lawyer-wife Lisa (Kristen Wilson) discovers that the land in question is not only the home to the intimidating rodent population, but to the Pacific western bear, an endangered species. The court agrees that if Dr. D. can get two of these bears to mate, the land will be preserved. The trouble is, the only male bear to be found is Archie (Steve Zahn), a citified circus bear who knows more about riding a bike and dancing to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" than living in the wild. Interrupting his family's much-needed vacation, Dr. D. must train Archie to act like a real bear so that he may win the favor of the local female, Ava (Lisa Kudrow). Not only must he deal with pressure from the fuzzy "family," the cold shoulder from Lisa and Charisse, and Archie's ineptness, but with the evil tricks of the logging executive (Jeffrey Jones) and his lawyer (Kevin Pollak), who conspire to put every stumbling block in his way.

I mentioned in my review of Dr. Dolittle ('98) that most of the fun was derived from guessing at the celebrity voices playing the multitude of animal characters. In this film, the vast majority of screen time is spent on Archie, and while Steve Zahn is not unknown (he has appeared in numerous supporting roles over the last few years, including, coincidentally, the husband of Kudrow's character on Friends), he's not exactly a household name. Kudrow's voice is certainly recognizable, but she has very little screen time and doesn't do much with what she has. Macdonald is used not only as Don Beaver but also as Lucky the dog, but again, he's not used much. Murphy, in the meantime, looks bored and tired. After his high-energy performance in Nutty Professor II, playing this role is like brushing his teeth. He is uncomfortable and underused as the straight man. In the end, Dr. Dolittle 2 lives up to its name. It does very little. **

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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