Does Marmaduke offer up some tasty treats? Or, asks Kimberly Gadette, does this adaptation from the funny pages – a new leash on life, as it were – stop dead in its tracks?
"Come. Sit. Stay." Three little words that the Marmaduke filmmakers might wish they could tell the movie-going public. If only we cinephile bipeds obeyed orders as well as the onscreen quadrupeds, the movie could have earned some decent, um, scratch. But thick inviting grass or not, that's not how we roll. We'll need more than a cookie to get our attention. A good story, for one. A logical plot. Intriguing characters.
And certainly something other than CGI-talking mouths superimposed on to the muzzles of man's best friend. Because – like bits of old meat that Marmaduke hides under his master's bed – we're a bit spoiled. Chatty comic critters have appeared in the cinema for many a dog year, ie, 1942 (Road to Morocco's talking camel) and 1950 (Francis' talking mule). Between Babe, Stuart Little and a good half-dozen kiddie films littering the matinees every summer, no one other than a newborn is drooling over the novelty of the talking animal. (And rumor has it that the newborn will drool over anything.)
But like a super-sized mastiff chasing his tail ... I'm getting ahead of myself.
Based on the 1954 comic strip "Marmaduke," Phil Winslow (Lee Pace) decides to move his family from Kansas to California's hip Orange County in order to take a job at an organic pet food company owned by dog-loving eccentric Twombly (William H. Macy). While Phil's unbelievably pleasant wife Debbie (Judy Greer) and three children (the go-to pouty teenage girl, the conflicted younger son and the cuter-than-cute toddler) are somewhat reluctant to move, the titular 200-pound Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his step-brother Carlos (a feline Burmese mix voiced by George Lopez) are excited by the paws-sibilities of the new digs. But the teenage Marmaduke soon discovers that fitting in at the OC dog park is more challenging than fitting through a Chihuahua-sized pet door.
The plot drags on like a dog day afternoon. After a lackluster opening in which Marmaduke introduces each family member with monologues delivered straight to camera, we move on to a pristine OC dog park, run by a bully Beauceron named Bosco (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland). Bosco banishes Marmaduke and his new pal Mazie (an Australian Shepherd voiced by Emma Stone) from the preferred area of the park because they're "mutts." Um ... are the screenwriters unaware of the fact that Great Danes and Australian Shepherds are indeed purebreds? The plot complications hinge on whether Marmaduke will hook up with Mazie or a pampered collie named Jezebel, and whether Phil will please his demanding new boss. Please. We've seen more engrossing twists in any Saturday morning Scooby-Doo! cartoon.
As for the humans ... were the filmmakers afraid that they might upstage their furry counterparts? No worries: Pace is a dullard dad who doesn't particularly like Marmaduke – until the last act, when he suddenly puts his life on the line for his pet. Macy's boss plays the singular tone of "annoyed" throughout. His character quirk consists of his walking barefoot through the dog park, stating that he wants to feel the earth under his feet. Just like the dogs. He neglects to mention the other earthy substances he's sure to encounter.
As for the mom portrayed by Greer (a wonderful Glenne Headly-esque comedienne shining in such earlier works as 27 Dresses, Arrested Development, 13 Going On 30); she must have been told to leave her personality at home. With a smile plastered on her face, she reacts to the events around her as if through a haze of Prozac. Marmaduke gobbles up a grilled cheese sandwich she's just cooked up for one of her kids – and she smiles. Marmaduke destroys her home, shredding the couch, the walls, the rugs – and she smiles. Her reactions defy common sense. Which, given the illogical nature of this piece, is in keeping with the whole.
The CGI that's stuck on the animals looks like the similar material that Macy's barefoot boss has probably tripped over numerous times at the park. The one-liners are as stale as 20-year-old Milkbones, and even the ending doggy trot (a rip-off of joyful dances à la Shrek) verges on the amateur. Bookend it all with two lame fart jokes – and wow, biting the neighbors' tires for 90 minutes looks like a far better use of time.
Like an overpopulated puppy park on a Fourth of July weekend, this shaggy dog story stinks to high heaven.
Rating on a scale of 5 gnaw-ty bits: 1
Release date: US: 4 June 2010; UK: 13 August 2010
Directed by: Tom Dey
Written by: Tim Rasmussen & Vince Di Meglio
Based upon the comic created by: Brad Anderson and Phil Leeming
Voice cast: Owen Wilson, Emma Stone, George Lopez, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Steve Coogan, Fergie, Kiefer Sutherland
Cast: Lee Pace, Judy Greer, William H. Macy
Rating: US = PG; UK = TBD
Running time: 87 minutes