Eddie Murphy walks with the animals and talks with the animals in "Dr. Dolittle 2," a tired, formulaic, by-the-numbers sequel to the comedy that inexplicably grossed $144 million at the box office three summers ago. Frankly, though, the veteran funny man has been far more effective in recent years walking and talking as an animal as the voice of Donkey in the far more entertaining Shrek, and as the voice of Mushu the dragon in 1998's Mulan.
This time, not unlike in the first Dolittle, Murphy is all straight man, forced to react to the often rude and crude comments of his friends from the animal kingdom, many of whom seem eager to crack jokes about bodily functions and sexual habits.
Which brings up a complaint: Does a movie count as family entertainment if one's five-year-old child reports that the "butt plug" discussion was the most memorable part of the film? Is toilet humor now an obligatory part of Hollywood productions aimed at kids?
The vet's dog Lucky (voiced by Norm MacDonald, reprising his role), an endangered Pacific Western bear named Ava (Lisa Kudrow), Pepito the frustrated Hispanic chameleon (Jacob Vargas), Mafioso kingpin Beaver (Richard C. Sarafian) and henchman Joey the raccoon (Michael Rapaport), and Lennie the Weasel (Andy Dick) are among the non-human pals closest to the heart of the genial San Francisco veterinarian.
Those critters, and a forest full of their family and friends, are about to lose their homes to greedy developers (Kevin Pollak and Jeffrey Jones) planning to wipe out thousands of acres of forest. So they tap on Dolittle. His idea: Reacquaint laconic circus bear Archie (Steve Zahn), an ursine showboat partial to the music of Gloria Gaynor, with the ways of the wild, so that heíll mate with Ava, and the nasty loggers will be legally prevented from destroying the bears' habitat.
It's not much of a plot, but former rap video director Steve Carr (Next Friday) and screenwriter Larry Levin ("Dr. Dolittle") do what they can to stretch it all into a feature. Dolittle, now a celebrity vet, apparently liberated from office hours to consult with folks like real-life television crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, is forced to deal with some dilemmas on the home front.
His wife, Lisa (Kristen Wilson, another returnee) isnít getting the attention she desires; thus, we get a romantic interlude involving the moldy Lionel Richie hit "Truly" and a bit of unfunny slapstick. Even more complicated is the plight of Charisse (Raven-Symone, also in the first "Dr."), a 16-year-old less interested in hanging out with her family than spending time with new beau Eric (rapper Lil' Zane). Charisse has a secret, one that perhaps was shocking and surprising in an earlier version of the script. Here, it's simply anticlimactic.