- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

"Dr. Dolittle 2" improves on its 1998 prototype, in part by being freed of any obligation to the premise, which relies on making a virtue of comedy club repartee in a void: Eddie Murphy, as a San Francisco general practitioner named John Dolittle, pretends to conduct conversations with numerous disembodied actors, present only on the soundtrack while pretending to be domesticated or woodland critters.
This time around the phenomenal doctor must ignore his practice in order to assist a woodsy clientele that fears the loss of a Northern California habitat to unscrupulous developers. They are represented by Jeffrey Jones as a fuming forest assassin called Potter (presumably in homage to the Lionel Barrymore character in "Its a Wonderful Life") and Kevin Pollak as his smirky mouthpiece.
The standard-issue wildlife bias is tempered by a considerable amount of humorous insincerity and deflation. The doctors defense of his ostensibly endangered acquaintances is absurd by definition, since talking critters clearly belong to the realm of show business facetiousness rather than nature in the raw, or prudently manicured.
The success of the "Dolittle 2" crusade is predicated on Mr. Murphys ability to broker a love match between bears called Ava and Archie. The former, with voice by Lisa Kudrow, is supposedly in need of a mate. The latter, a circus performer with voice by Steve Zahn, is supposedly the most suitable candidate, although a gruff rival called Sonny is rambling around the forest much of the time.
The endearing thing about Archie is that he has no affinity for the outdoors. A show biz trouper, although never a headliner in any serious respect, Archie feels far more comfortable telling jokes, crooning "I Will Survive," lounging in a tub and watching TV — preferably, anything on TV except wildlife documentaries that dwell on the natural inclinations of his species.
"Can we please see what else is on?" he asks the doc during one plaintive couch-potato interlude. Arguably the best Archie beau geste: being clapped into a jail cell with two rough-talking bears who are soon heard joining him in a trio rendition of "Copacabana."
The logic that makes Archie absurdly inappropriate as an advocate of natural habitats also applies to the raccoon messenger, Joey, dubbed by Michael Rapaport, and his patron, the so-called God Beaver, a phlegmatic Mafia boss entrusted to Richard C. Sarafian.
A master of humility, the beaver likes to think of himself as "a simple fisherman blessed with many friends." The snappiest domestic specimens are the holdover family dog Lucky, still impersonated by Norm Macdonald, and newcomer Pepito, an immature chameleon whose flair for wisecracks is way ahead of his camouflage skills.
Voiced by Jacob Vargas, Pepito gets off his best quip when mocking the rebellious tendencies of the eldest Dolittle daughter, nearly 16-year-old Charisse (Raven-Symone): "So young, so angry. Damn that rap music." Given the apprenticeship of director Steve Carr, who specialized in music videos among the rappers for several years, Pepito also has custody of an inside joke.
Mr. Carr seems much more at ease with the gabby nature of Larry Levins script than the previous director, Betty Thomas, who kept bogging down between plot development and gratuitous patter.
While confident in the stars rapport with most of his concealed interlocutors, the filmmakers are notably blind to several slip-ups.
The most conspicuous: Kristen Wilson seems to get left out of the whimsical, fun-loving loop as Mrs. Dolittle, prone to grumpy moods.
She is also subordinated to daughter Charisse in a way that looks unseemly at best. Its as if the guys were conspiring to scuttle mom and couldnt quite hide the desire or accomplish the deed.
If they need to recast or rewrite the role, please get it done before the next movie labors under a similar cloud of domestic incompatibility.

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