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'Dolittle': Physician, Heal Thy Self

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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It was early in director Stephan Gaghan's "Dolittle," the umpteenth permutation derived of Hugh Lofting's 1920 novel, "The Story of Doctor Dolittle," when I began to bemoan my choice of occupation. Little on the screen could dissuade me from the self-pity. So, I resorted to fantasizing. What would have been so terrible about being a podiatrist?
"Madge, anyone left out there?"
"Yes, Dr. Goldberger, Mrs. Berkowitz, your 5:30, is your last."
"Send her in. How are you, Mrs. Berkowitz? Corns still bothering you?"
"Oy, don't ask, Dr. Goldberger. And I think it's worse from the walking around at the mall with my grandchildren this afternoon. I took them to see 'Dolittle,' which wasn't funny like with Eddie Murphy. My feet seem to hurt worse since seeing the movie. Is that possible, doctor?"
"I don't know, but so much for this fantasy, Mrs. Berkowitz. Go home and pop in a DVD of 'The Sunshine Boys' (1975). Watch once. Repeat if necessary. You'll feel much better."
Back to the reality of trying to discern what films should and should not be recommended for viewing by our future engineers, lawyers, opera singers and podiatrists, I listened in vain for snippets of approval if not out and out laughter. Which made me wonder, considering Robert Downey Jr.'s strangely somber portrayal of the title character, if it was the director's aim to introduce Tyler and Taylor to their first serious film. And if so, why not just show'em "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942)? Nothing more than PG stuff there. I mean, if you're out to furrow a kid's brow with the worries of adults, do it in style.
Furthermore, Downey's unsuccessful attempt to form a likable if not entirely enchanting persona is as disconcerting as it is curiously unamusing. Appropriating some sort of Scottish brogue, made even less audible by a muttering, offhanded delivery a la Popeye, it seemed as if this otherwise naturally glib actor was attempting to trademark his Dolittle with an obscure detachment analogous to Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow.
Adding to the unfathomability, there doesn't seem to be much magic in the notion that Dr. John Dolittle can converse with all manner of animal. It's simply a given, with the plot's main emphasis centering on the doctor's staunch resolve to disassociate himself from humankind. The metaphor is a tad sad, and one hopes that not too many of the ragamuffin set in attendance have occasion to relate. Whereas this adult, who longingly looked at the exit signs the way Paul Henreid's Victor Laszlo might have viewed the plane to Portugal in "Casablanca" (1942), wondered if it was the movie or imagining a full day of fixing patients' feet that begged me to doze.
So maybe I missed a little here and there as I struggled to get into the convoluted storyline, which essentially treats its target audience to a tale of long-lost love. But that only made me think of a brilliant, favorite prof I had in grad school (B.A., William and Mary; M.A., Princeton) who, according to a coed I was dating, informed with F. Scott Fitzgerald fatalism that "it was a woman" who deterred him from getting his PhD. But I was 22. I'm not sure at what age a child should be persuaded that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.
Nonetheless, it is the story's raison d'etre that Dr. Dolittle should put on his big boy pants, abandon his reclusive posture and save a very sick young Queen Victoria from dying. Add Antonio Banderas' pirate King Rassouli as the interceding father of the dear departed Lilly to supply some superfluous filler, and there you have the outline of the snail's pace soppiness.
OK, so maybe it's just my pie-in-the-sky fantasy. But trudging through the doctor's journey to wished for epiphany, it occurred that if you made a film that just so happened to include animals who could talk, you'd insure their chatter was at least interesting if not funny. Yet these critters' utterings are for the most part no more engaging than the verbiage spewed by the bulk of endlessly annoying telemarketers trying to sell me, well, I don't know what they're trying to sell me.
All these misfires of the motion picture kind considered, one can't help but become more consumed with the curiously apparent ineptitude of "Dolittle" than with the tale it's attempting to relate. What were they thinking? But more troubling to this would-be podiatrist is how the failed film might impact the first-time filmgoer. Assuming full Auntie Mame mode, I wanted to assure each and every one of them that a whole wide world of great movies awaited their discovery, and that they need only pick the right film critic to point them out.
"Dolittle," rated PG, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Stephen Gaghan and stars Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas and Carmel Laniado. Running time: 101 minutes

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A Snowy Tuesday in the Berkshires

The weather outside is ... a bit frightful this Tuesday morning.

Snow is falling across the region, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a special weather statement: "Snow has developed across the southern Green Mountains, northern Berkshires, and Washington county in eastern New York. Snowfall of varying intensity with temperatures near or below freezing could result in areas of slippery travel and reduced visibility. Around 1 to 3 inches of snow will accumulate, especially in the higher terrain. Use caution if traveling into the afternoon."

Be careful driving if you're out and about today running errands, getting to and from work, or bringing the kiddos somewhere to keep them entertained during this February school vacation week. (If you're in warmer climates this vacation week, lucky you!)

Be aware that the snow today likely will change to rain in most of the region early this afternoon, making it less pretty and more messy. The rest of the week looks pretty quiet on the weather front, though we will see more seasonably cold temperatures, with lows in the single digits Wednesday and Thursday.

The weekend outlook, though? Sunny and temps around 40. Can't beat that in February!


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