23 January 2020 2764 Views

Don’t Belittle Dolittle : Downey’s doing Just Fine and the Best is Yet to Come!

by James Murphy

Sherlock Stark need not Lose any Sleep Just Yet. Because you are NOT just as Good as your Last or Biggest Hit. Trust Me. 

Here’s why..

Before we commence?Full Disclosure: 1: I am a ‘YUGE’ Downey fan.

I think he is right up there with Thespus, Garrick, Larry Olivier, Brando, Nicholson, Duvall, Pacino..the pantheon of actors who define the craft at its very best.  Oh and 2: I am yet to see DOLITTLE. Coz it’s not quite out yet in the UK. But I look forward to sitting down and watching it, maybe during HALF TERM..which is when it SHOULDA COME OUT, ANYWAY.

Yep, this film would have benefited from just about any other release slot. January is there to either bury a movie or praise it. You put it there because it could not cut it at summer or Christmas..or because it must win Oscars and comes with worthy subject matter and emotional blackmail comeback to match. So, by placing DOLITTLE in the ‘grave-tard’ slot? It was condemned from day one to under-perform, financially.

That’s right, folks. I refuse to deem this film a ‘flop’. I’m not going there. It will make its money back eventually. Throw in streaming / home video and international sales? All should be well. It looks to be a charming, cute, family friendly, visually rich, ensemble piece and anchored by the star power of one of the greatest actors of all time (fact). That said, sure it has disappointed in its tallies, relative to the expectations associated with a box office power of Downey’s calibre.

But that’s just it. RELATIVE to his POWER.

As in, this movie is only disappointing, in so far as it is not Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes in its Box Office totals. And whilst ‘Bob’ Downey is neither of those characters, it’s fair to say that they are to him what the Tramp was to Charlie Chaplin (Downey played Chaplin to perfection, btw).

Indeed, Hollywood history is filled with actors at once defined by and escaping from their definitive roles and finest hours. Chaplin made The Tramp again and again; but he also made The Great Dictator. One role fed the other, in effect?

Think also,  Han Solo /Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford.

IE: If you hit big with signature roles? ANYTHING else, however worthy, will be seen as somehow falling short. Particularly in that fragile stage of transition JUST after you have, theoretically, said goodbye to one or more major characters that helped build your power profile.

In Ford’s case? He tried comedy, drama, romance, the works. After Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; he made Presumed Innocent (Greta Scacchi  being sexy on a desk..Harrison in weird haircut..that one). Then Regarding Henry (he went ‘full retard’; in a JJ Abrams script..hang on no..that was Force Awakens?). Sabrina was hilarious. As a career choice.

Point being; our hero did try other stuff. He was by no means restricted to playing one or two characters, though ultimately had to admit that every one of his attempts to retire from action (‘my knees hurt; save the postage stamp and stop sending me action scripts’) met with a dead end. And so, we got two Jack Ryan pictures, The Fugitive and Air Force One. Some of Ford’s greatest hits happened after Han and Indy were done for a while; even if he then had to revisit said signature roles as he faced his 60s and 70s and started enjoying himself onscreen again.

Where am I going with this? Well, Ford is of course a very different actor from Downey. But the career precedent and parallels are there. This is an awkward transitional, middle phase. The guy does not need the money but he wants, no NEEDS to remain stretched, in work, which he loves. The urge to entertain, to express: always there, every bit as much a vocation as the Priesthood or teaching /healing.

Nicolas Cage even thinks an actor is a kind of shamanic staple of our emotional lives and those entrusted with the job must serve the audience. Interesting theory. A little wild, sure..but kinda logical. Even if the man does ‘BUY CASTLES’ for fun.

The fact is that no performer, if talented, committed and stimulated by their work, will walk willingly into the sunset. An actor never retires in the strictest sense.

Clint Eastwood still acts and directs, aged 90. John Gielgud won an Oscar in his 80s.

Adulation is motivation; a constant need to stretch oneself in new characters and stories, without ever truly losing the star power or charm that gave you the clout to make the projects YOU wanted and invest your earnings on YOUR terms.

Where am I going with this? How is it related to Downey?

Well, what it means is that, yes, of course, Dolittle not being a big blockbuster hit will smart a bit. He’s human. There is an ego there that enjoys winning. He will want to stay on top. Why-ever wouldn’t he? He’s used to being the guy who opens movies to record breaking weekends and toward 2 billion dollar plus tallies. Except he did not make this picture just to meet targets. It was an experimental production, by its very nature. Designed to appeal to families (including his own young, beloved kids); its lack of exploding super-heroes or action adventure antics perhaps setback its short term returns.

And audiences just weren’t yet ready to see Sherlock Stark in a similar yet different role. Same way a project like The Judge would, ironically, have performed better BEFORE Downey had his box office clout. Seriously: it was a criminally under-looked gem of a film from 2014; a cerebral, adult, sensitive clash of titans between Robert Duvall and his naturally anointed successor in the amazing acting stakes. Downey had been pegged with that kind of creative recognition LONG before we saw Tony Stark have onscreen adventures. It’s just an inverse logic in showbiz that you gain the commercial clout to make the KIND of movies that people would have seen you in..before you got said power..and then they forget to go see them.

And remember: it takes a LOT to just GET people into cinemas nowadays. It isn’t enough to have an avenger as the star (even Chris Hemsworth could not save Men in Black 4; go figure). We have infinite home entertainment options and the shortest of short attention spans. And you practically need to take out a mortgage just to get to a cinema /’theater’, and before factoring in parking / popcorn etc!

People are more selective, more suggestible, at once. Bizarre paradox, with an art form at once thriving (2 billion dollar blockbusters) and declining (anything else on offer: Dolittle a mere casualty case in point?).


It doesn’t mean that Downey’s star is on the wane. And even if it did mean that? Who is to say that such a setback, however brief, cannot be a massive benefit. It allows an actor to go away, do a few more experimental projects and THEN bring back a signature role or three. Or mix and match.

Sean Connery was a bit lost initially after James Bond, even trying two returns to the role at equally inopportune moments. But guess what: he comes back with an Oscar for The Untouchables AND steals the show in an Indiana Jones film, before kicking ars(he) in The Rock (his REAL 007 comeback in all but name).

Johnny Depp made the mistake of overdoing his  (brilliant, btw and oscar nominated, rightly so)  Captain Jack Sparrow routine after Pirates of the Caribbean hit big. The problem was that he then became pigeon holed, defined and perceived as somehow slipping into one lazy routine. So by the time he tried to bounce back with more challenging character work alongside a return to Jack Sparrow (Dead Men Tell no..yawns), critics and indeed fans were unresponsive.

Side note: why has nobody yet paired Downey and Depp? Brothers, maybe? Or Johnny as the baddie in Sherlock Holmes 3? Something. It is as inevitable as the Face/Off remake (another possibility for them?).

One more actor precedent: Denzel Washington. One of my most favouritest actors ever. He says you do ‘one for me, one for them’. As in, I use my clout to make maybe one or two personal projects, be they large or small, but always worthy and interesting to me. I fund that and pay it back via the commercial clout garnered from however many Equalizer sequels I make. Very sensible and clear; knowing one’s limitations but also testing them creatively.

We are all slaves to market forces but we can also use that to our advantage. And I know how savvy Downey is, too. He runs a production company with his wife, Susan. They both learned a lot from Joel Silver and she is on course to basically become the next Kathy Kennedy /Barbara Broccoli style powerhouse Producing talent in the business. They have a Perry Mason television show that will syndicate and stream. And they still own the rights to the JAWS prequel (all about Quint: maybe cast a now post 007 Daniel Craig; he stepped in for Downey in Cowboys and Aliens..would Spielberg come back and direct?). Just a thought.

There is definitely room for some experimentation, no question. Get Mel Gibson on the phone and make that Richard III stage play!

Maybe cameo as a nasty baddie in a small, domestic drama (Downey is a menacing villain, for sure). Oscars, ahoy! Do an all out comedy (team up with fellow Dolittler, Eddie Murphy?).

Make some more music; nothing renews an actor like an album..whether it is ever released or not.

There’s also the Footprint Coalition (AI saves the environment: a real life Tony Stark!); ethical farming, rescuing animals and being a husband /Dad. Plenty to do for Downey!

Amidst all that? Just to strike back against this minor box office setback..yes, he will have to do Sherlock Holmes 3 probably sooner than projected. Maybe turn up in a new Star Wars spin off from Jon Favreau?

And I think it inevitable that Tony Stark /Iron Man do indeed, return, somehow, somewhere, some day. And no, not in some awful cameo, flashback or voice-over but a full blooded, dramatic, suspenseful, character driven and action packed salvation reboot for the entire Marvel universe. Coz they’re gonna need him.

I’ll put it this way: as soon as the DOLITTLE numbers cam in? There was little if any schadenfreude. Just ARMIES of Marvel move fans, rejoicing at the fact this might expedite the return of the hero who started it all.

Yep: that’s right. This is the first actor perhaps in history whose negotiating position might be STRENGTHENED by having just fronted a slight setback in their apparent box office power. How very ironic. How VERY Tony Stark. How very, very, Robert Downey Junior.

In short /conclusion? DOLITTLE might just be the BEST thing to happen to this particular actor /movie star: energising, redefining, regrouping and STILL getting him the kind of creative freedom and commercial clout to which he has become rightly accustomed.

Sure, there will be no Dr 2Little. But that’s one less franchise to worry about ever after. Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes are quite enough, alongside so many other countless opportunities.

You’re just getting started. #YOUGOTTHIS.


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