Judge Daniel Kelly prefers Cat Abseiling to Dog Surfing.
Our review of Marmaduke (Blu-Ray), published September 13th, 2010, is also available.
Based on a comic strip that has been circulating in newspapers for almost half a century, Marmaduke was a surprising financial misfire for Fox during summer 2010. The film performed very averagely at the box-office and was savaged by critics, family audiences obviously opting for entertainment with a stronger pedigree or at least slightly less nauseating advertising campaigns. To my surprise Marmaduke isn't a cinematic apocalypse, just an innocuous and largely mediocre big screen diversion. The voice cast is actually fairly strong, the film mostly scuppered by a weak script and some poor live action performances.
Facts of the Case
Marmaduke (Owen Wilson, Behind Enemy Lines) is a lovable yet clumsy Great Dane, who lives a contented life in Kansas with the Winslow family and their pet cat Carlos (George Lopez, Valentine's Day). However, when Dad Phil (Lee Pace, A Single Man) uproots the clan to take a job opportunity in California, Marmaduke has to leave his relaxed lifestyle behind for a more hectic existence in Orange County. On arrival, he quickly befriends a group of social rejects (Emma Stone, Steve Coogan, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) but angers local alpha canine Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland, Mirrors), who is extremely defensive of his trophy girlfriend Jezebel (Stacy Ferguson, Poseidon).
Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the oafish Great Dane, bringing a distinct charm and likeability to the title character. One of the things that Marmaduke has going for it is the fact its hero is actually pretty engaging; kids will certainly be enthralled by Wilson's roguish charisma and solid comedic timing during this adventure. The actor manages to infuse the character with enough relatable neuroses for it to hit a chord with children who themselves might be outsiders, a decent achievement given the shallow and generic tone the screenplay generally adopts. George Lopez, Emma Stone, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are all fun in their respective roles, whilst Kiefer Sutherland brings an ordinary but acceptable growl as the movie's villain. Ferguson is left trapped with the worst canine screen presence and fails to do much with it, The Black Eyed Peas musician's presence simply reeks of stunt casting for marketing purposes. The live action acting is atrocious across the board; Lee Pace and Judy Greer (Love Happens) are unbelievably dull as the Winslow parental unit, whilst William H. Macy (Boogie Nights) is just embarrassing himself as Phil's new boss.
Given that the screenplay was penned by the same team responsible for 2007's hideously unfunny License to Wed, Marmaduke probably solicits more good humor than viewers are likely to expect. The film sneaks in a few clever and even adult-orientated gags during its tight 88 minute running, albeit not enough to make up for the abundance of broad fart and piss jokes it smothers itself in. The tone of the comedy is mostly juvenile and not in a clever or particularly manic sense, just in a moronic one. I suppose the fact Marmaduke provides any laughs at all (I giggled a few times, mushroom ingesting dogs a notable highlight) should be taken as a merciful act of God, but it isn't enough to push the film beyond the boundaries of PG rated banality. I'm not sure if the narrative is knowingly spinning on clichéd High School fodder or if the film is just simply very lazy, but either way, the storytelling isn't satisfying. If the movie is attempting to parody the typical "underdog" plot, then it doesn't come off as funny or witty enough, and if the writers thought this would pass muster as an interesting story, then they must have been smoking something. Marmaduke moves through the paces with such predictability that it's alarming, and the "be yourself" message the movie preaches is both tired and hackneyed.
The film climaxes with a cringe-inducing dance sequence that feature some pretty ropey CGI, albeit the special effects and animals onscreen are generally impressive throughout. The set-pieces are professionally photographed no matter how ridiculous they become (a pooch surfing competition is a particular eye roller), which at least lends the film some respectability from a technical standpoint. Brevity is another commendable asset the picture thankfully exhibits; it's a trim experience that doesn't let the pain linger in the same way as some other recent kiddie fare.
The DVD looks and sounds good, the image particularly useful in exploiting the vibrant and exotic Californian locales Marmaduke inhabits. In terms of extra content, this is a soft release, two bog-standard EPK featurettes and three unfathomably short deleted scenes the only added value Fox have instilled into this release. One of the featurettes is amongst the most startlingly pointless I've ever seen: Canine Casting is a brief little piece that features a few jokes and a chance to look at a few cute dogs. It gives absolutely no points as to how budding filmmakers should cast and work with animals, instead choosing to run out a quick parade of lame gags. This really is an exceptionally limp extras package.
Marmaduke isn't completely awful, but that's truthfully the nicest thing you can say about it. The DVD from Fox is from an audio and video viewpoint perfectly adequate, but the extras are worthless.
Marmaduke shouldn't necessarily be put down, but I wouldn't be adverse to him doing a little hard time in the pound.
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