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Schultz reviews: ‘Bad Boys for Life’ and ‘Dolittle’

Schultz reviews: ‘Bad Boys for Life’ and ‘Dolittle’

Carl Schultz

 

“Bad Boys for Life” Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing and Columbia Pictures, 124 Minutes, Rated R, Released Jan. 17:

 

Based on characters created by George Gallo, who also provided the screenplays for such hard-edged action-comedies as “Wise Guys,” “Midnight Run” and “The Whole Ten Yards,” “Bad Boys for Life” is the third time around for Miami detectives Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett. But while the “Bad Boys” characters might’ve been created by Gallo, the formula for the film’s success has been around since Charlie Chaplin first shared the screen with Roscoe Arbuckle over a century ago.

 

In a series of comic book-like action adventures, Mike Lowery (Will Smith) is an ambitious, vainglorious and womanizing Miami detective partnered with the less adventurous, family-oriented, happily married homebody Marcus Bennett (Martin Lawrence). And beginning with the box office hit “Bad Boys” in 1995 and continuing with “Bad Boys II” in 2003 (the pictures which also put action-adventure filmmaker Michael Bay on the map), the two partners rely on their familiarity with each others’ strengths and character traits to survive spectacular adventures, solve complicated crimes, and subdue often genuinely evil adversaries, trading affectionate insults and one-liners every step of the way.

 

In “Bad Boys for Life,” their first film adventure in 17 years, detective Marcus Burnett has just become a proud grandfather ... while partner Mike Lowery has just become the target of an assassin. Blaming Lowery for the imprisonment of his mother, and the collapse of his family’s narcotics cartel, young assassin and aspiring drug kingpin Armando Armando manages to nearly kill Lowery. And as the gravely wounded detective hovers near death, the religious Burnett swears an oath before God to forgo future violence and mayhem in exchange for his partner’s life.

 

Six months later, Lowery has recovered sufficiently from his wounds to return to police work. Anxious to apprehend the assassin and solve the mystery of his own shooting, Lowery is instead surprised to learn that Burnett has retired from the police force, eager to spend time with his growing grandson and enjoy family life. Despite an argument that “violence is what we do,” Lowery is unable to persuade his partner to return to the police force to solve the shooting. Reluctantly, Lowery is assigned to a different crime fighting team ... headed by a former romantic conquest.

 

With overtones of the later pictures in the equally-successful “Lethal Weapon” series of movies, “Bad Boys for Life” plays to the strengths of the previous films in the series, with spectacular action set pieces, brilliant stunt coordination, and synchronized mayhem aplenty, leavened with the comfortably jocular interplay between Lawrence and Smith. While the picture becomes substantially darker than the other pictures (think “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) and the humor edges toward tired age-related jibes (“Put on your glasses!”), the heart of the “Bad Boys” pictures has always been the familiarity and affection between the partners. And thanks to the glorious chemistry between Smith and Lawrence, the formula works better than ever the third time around.

 

Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah from a script credited to Chris Bremmer, Peter Craig, and TV’s “The Blacklist” writer Joe Carnahan, “Bad Boys for Life” is receiving admiring reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of 76% from Rotten Tomatoes and 59% from Metacritic. Expected by distributor Sony Pictures Releasing to earn up to $45 million during its opening weekend, the picture exceeded projections to bring in $59.2 million, soaring to the top of the Box Office Mojo Top Ten over the new “Dolittle” in second place and Academy Award favorite “1917” in third.

 

“Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II” director Michael Bay contributes a cameo appearance as a wedding planner. Following the film’s box office success of “Bad Boys for Life” during its opening weekend, distributor Sony Pictures Releasing immediately announced plans for a fourth installment in the series. Fun Fact: The first “Bad Boys” picture in 1995 was originally slated to star comics Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, then riding high on the strength of their appearances on TV’s “Saturday Night Live.”

 

“Bad Boys for Life” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language concerns, sexual references, and brief drug use.

 

“Dolittle” Distributed by Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes, Rated PG, Released Jan. 17: 

 

No matter what kind of movie you think “Dolittle” is going to be, it might surprise you. And that might be part of the problem with the picture ... but also among its strengths.

 

“Dolittle” is the third motion picture version of the Newbery Medal-winning children’s series of Doctor Dolittle books written by British author Hugh Lofting during the 1920s. Originally appearing in the letters Lofting wrote to his children during his service as an enlisted man in the trenches of France during World War I, Doctor Dolittle is an eccentric physician who shuns human patients in favor of animals due to a unique ability to communicate with non-human patients.

 

Set in Victorian times and based mostly on “The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle” (the second of Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle collections), the movie “Dolittle” opens with a fairly innocuous “Once Upon a Time” prologue setting the stage for the film with the story of the character’s origin, illustrated onscreen with a series of drawing reminiscent of Lofting’s original books:

 

As in Lofting’s stories, Dr. John Dolittle is a British physician specializing in veterinary medicine. When he loses his beloved wife Lily during a perilous ocean voyage she undertakes without his company, Dolittle retires from medicine to become a hermit, living alone with his menagerie of animal friends on a vast, palatial walled-off estate near London.

 

As the picture’s main narrative begins, young Tommy Stubbins seriously injures a squirrel while reluctantly hunting with his country-bred father, and gathers the wounded squirrel into a box to seek the services of the reclusive Dolittle. Young Stubbins gains entry to Dolittle’s estate simultaneous to the arrival of young Lady Rose, who also seeks Dolittle’s services to save the gravely ill Queen Victoria, at the monarch’s own request. Appointing himself Dolittle’s apprentice, young Stubbins assists the disheveled and unkempt physician in saving the life of the wounded squirrel. And after Dolittle performs some rudimentary grooming on himself, Stubbins and the reclusive physician set off for Buckingham Palace to examine the Queen.

 

Dolittle shortly discovers the ailing Queen is suffering from a rare disease which requires as a cure an equally-rare elixir, found only in “the fruit of a plant that’s never been seen, growing on an island that’s never been found.” And accompanied by a crew of his most capable animal friends, Dolittle and young Tommy Stubbins set off on a perilous ocean voyage to locate the mysterious island and plant, and transport the elixir back to England in time to save the life of the ailing Queen.

 

Directed by Stephen Gaghan from a script credited to Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, and Chris McKay, “Dolittle” is filled with adventure, spectacular sight gags, and colorful set pieces and action sequences. In fact, “Dolittle” contains practically everything you can think of ... except cohesion. The film doesn’t flow from segment to segment so much as if morphs from style to style, and from genre to genre. There’s always plenty going on in the picture and even more to look at on the screen, with marvelous scenes including a delightfully exciting chase atop a galloping giraffe as the young Stubbins races to catch Dolittle’s departing ship for the voyage to the unknown island.

 

In a way, “Dolittle” resembles “Monty Python” without the laughs. If the 102-minute picture added another hour or so to its running time, it might’ve found its own unique style. In its final form, the picture lacks the central ingredient required of any such movie enterprise — Disney Magic. Instead, the picture is strongly reminiscent of those jaunty, ramshackle comedy spectaculars from the 1960s with titles like “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” ... movies panned during their original releases which sometimes became family favorites on television. The adult in you might roll your eyes at much of “Dolittle” ... but the 4- to 7-year-old inside you will cherish the movie forever.

 

As Dolittle, actor Robert Downey Jr. has a wonderful time channeling his Academy Award-nominated characterization from “Chaplin,” Richard Attenborough’s 1992 motion picture biography of controversial silent film legend Charlie Chaplin. In his first non-Iron Man role since 2014’s “The Judge,” Downey adopts a subdued and distracted accent of elusive Welsh or Scottish origin (one character refers to it as “his lean in, lean in, I’m saying something interesting voice”) and fashions a character who’s variously scatterbrained, brilliant, dramatic, sympathetic, and occasionally infuriating. In other words, Downey’s characterization as Dolittle will need to satisfy his legions of fans until he returns to performing in more serious roles.

 

In the film’s other live-action roles, Antonio Banderas appears as Rassouli, the Pirate King who also happens to be Dolittle’s vengeful father-in-law (and still blames the doctor for the demise of his beloved daughter), a villainous Michael Sheen as Dr. Mudfly, an old schoolmate of Dolittle and primary physician to Queen Victoria, 16-year-old Harry Collett as Tommy Stubbins, Dolittle’s companion and apprentice, and Jessie Buckley in wraparound segments in a brief role as Queen Victoria.

 

Rendered in wonderfully lifelike CGI-created incarnations, Dolittle’s menagerie of animal friends includes narrator Emma Thompson as a wisecracking parrot, Rami Malek as a timid gorilla, John Cena as an cheerful polar bear, Kumail Nanjiani as a cynical ostrich, Octavia Spencer as an addled duck (with a prosthetic leg), Downey’s Marvel colleague Tom Holland as a bespectacled dog, Ralph Fiennes as a vengeful tiger, Selena Gomez as an adventurous giraffe, and Marion Cotillard as a friendly fox. Tony-winning Broadway actress Frances de la Tour appears late in the picture as a  heartburn-suffering dragon ... and gives new definition to the reason a “Ginko-Who-Soars” breathes fire.

 

Unfortunately, “Dolittle” is earning excoriating reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of just 18% from Rotten Tomatoes, against an average score of 27% from Metacritic. The show business newspaper Variety notes that “what should have been an awe-filled adventure quickly curdles into an awful one, thanks to a pedestrian formula.” Projected by distributor Universal Pictures to earn up to $22 million during its opening weekend, the picture slightly exceeded expectations with $22.5 million in box office sales, scoring the second place spot in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten behind the new “Bad Boys for Life.”

 

Principal photography for “Dolittle” began in February 2018 in Cumbria, with additional location filming in England’s Windsor Great Park and Wales’ Menai Suspension Bridge. Following disappointing test screenings, the picture underwent some three weeks of additional production, with filmmaker Jonathan Liebesman assisting Gaghan behind the camera and “The Lego Movie” veteran Chris McKay contributing additional comedy elements. Late in 2019, the picture’s title was officially changed from “The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle” to simply “Dolittle.”

 

Produced by Downey himself and his wife Susan for their Team Downey production company, “Dolittle” is rated PG for some action, rude humor, and brief language concerns.

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