DOLITTLE (PG) Two stars

Robert Downey Jr talks to creatures great and small but fails to communicate effectively with fellow humans - including us - in a special effects-clogged odyssey inspired by Hugh Lofting’s 1922 book The Voyages Of Doctor Dolittle.

Director Stephen Gaghan, who won an Academy Award almost 20 years ago for his adapted screenplay for the gritty thriller Traffic, searches in vain for animal magic as he shepherds a fitfully fantastical caper from the streets of Victorian London to far-flung island locales.

En route, Antonio Banderas buckles a swash as a salty seadog, who appears to have been shipwrecked from the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise, and Michael Sheen barely registers as Dolittle’s scheming rival, who is dismissed as a “chinless wonder” by the eponymous medic.

Downey Jr walks the same plank of intentional weirdness as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow by adopting a strangulated Welsh accent, which varies in thickness from one scene to the next.

It’s a perplexing creative choice by the Iron Man star with no dramatic payoff.

Humour misses the mark with alarming frequency and a climactic comic set-piece involves the doctor forcibly unclogging a creature’s swollen bowels.

He inhales a gale-force blast of flatulence as a reward. Regrettably, it’s not the only thing that stinks.

Following the death of his adventurer wife (Kasia Smutniak), gifted veterinarian Dr John Dolittle (Downey Jr) closes the doors to his animal hospital. He becomes a recluse, surrounded by a menagerie of chums. The unexpected intrusion of a boy called Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) coincides with an urgent summons to Buckingham Palace.

Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) has been poisoned with a pernicious variety of nightshade and the only remedy is the fruit of the mythical Eden tree.

Dolittle and fledgling apprentice Tommy head to an isle of bandits and thieves ruled by King Rassouli (Banderas), with fierce rival Dr Blair Mudfly (Sheen) in hot pursuit.

Alas, an ill wind blows through the expedition and Dolittle fears his gallant efforts will be in vain. “I can sniff defeat like a truffle pig,” he snorts.

Dolittle does little to engage family audiences, interspersing a haphazard storyline with digitally rendered critters including a vengeful tiger (Ralph Fiennes) and paranoid squirrel (Craig Robinson).

Downey Jr doesn’t lay claim to a single laugh in 101 minutes while Nanjiani fares slightly better as the self-loathing ostrich, who opines: “My father was right about me. He said I should have been an omelette.”

Every time his flightless bird buries his head in the sand, we contemplate joining him.

PARASITE (15) Five stars

Writer-director Bong Joon-ho mines a mother lode of deliciously cruel intentions in his wickedly entertaining, genre-bending satire, which is certain to convert some of its six Oscar nominations into golden statuettes.

Careening wildly from slapstick and scabrous social commentary to full-blooded horror, Parasite gleefully inhabits the cavernous divide between South Korea’s haves and have-nots.

The script, co-written by Han Jin-won, lulls us into a false sense of security with a gently paced yet engrossing opening hour before Joon-ho tightens the screws on his desperate characters, setting in motion a jaw-dropping second act that leaves our nerves in tatters.

The film-maker dissipates tension with staccato bursts of ghoulish humour but each belly laugh is soaked with bile - primal screams of despair at a world that repeatedly kicks the poor and disenfranchised when they are down.

“Money is an iron” notes a mother on the wrong side of the class divide, who asserts that wealth smooths out life’s creases and would undoubtedly sweeten her malodorous disposition.

With Joon-ho at the helm, any barbs are positioned with surgical precision to draw spurts of blood as the besieged protagonists stagger forlornly towards the brink of self-destruction. Wily patriarch Kim Ki-tek (Song Kang-ho) presides over a family of con artists, including his sharp-tongued wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), mild-mannered son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam).

They live in a squalid basement apartment in a poor neighbourhood of Seoul with a prime view of drunken passers-by urinating in the street. The resourceful clan exploit free Wi-Fi to secure thankless jobs such as folding cardboard pizza delivery boxes.

It’s an unedifying hand-to-mouth existence.

Good fortune smiles unexpectedly on Ki-woo when good friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) recommends him as an English tutor for teenager Park Da-hae (Jeong Ji-so). Ki-woo falsifies his qualifications to impress Da-hae’s wealthy mother Yon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) and father Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun).

Once he has earned the couple’s misplaced trust, Ki-woo recommends a college friend called Jessica as an art therapist for Da-hae’s younger brother, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun).

Sister Ki-jung arrives in the guise of Jessica and confidently passes off theories from the internet as her personal philosophy to unlock a child’s potential.

Ki-tek and Chung-sook also seek positions under false pretences.

However, the simmering suspicions of fashionable housekeeper Mun-kwang (Lee Jung-eun) threaten to expose the ingenious deception. Parasite is a lip-smacking delight, which divides our sympathy as moral compasses are wilfully ignored in pursuit of happiness. The light, airy, modernist splendour of the Park family residence becomes increasingly claustrophobic as characters are enslaved to their materialistic desires. Joon-ho retains masterful control over every element including the abrupt changes of tone in a gob-smacking second hour that proves home is where the heartbreak is.


Mallet-wielding former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) made a memorable appearance in the 2016 comic book romp Suicide Squad alongside her cackling partner in crime, The Joker.

The anti-heroine snags a spin-off film directed by Cathy Yan, based on a script by Christina Hodson. It unfolds after Harley and The Joker have parted ways. The mercenary hopes to turn around her life but old habits die hard and she falls into the clutches of sadistic gangster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).