June 10, 2010

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Marmaduke (PG)
The large dog and his wacky antics are the focus in Marmaduke, a live-action treatment that nobody asked for of a comic strip whose continued existence is the only surprising thing about this whole endeavor.

No, really, itís still around. Go check out your local daily paper. Iíll wait. While youíre uncovering this artifact of another age, Iíll ponder the question: whatís funnier, the ďwow this dog is bigĒ punchline of Marmaduke comics or the directional-arrow based humor of Family Circus?

So, Marmaduke (voice of Owen Wilson) is big goofy dog who, according to the laws of dog-based movies, occasionally unleashes horrible doggy gas on his humans. He is owned by the Winslows ó father Phil (Lee Pace), mother Debbie (Judy Greer), teenage daughter Barbara (Caroline Sunshine), son Brian (Finley Jacobsen) and toddler daughter Sarah (Mandy and Milana Haines). The family lives in Kansas, where Phil works for an organic pet food company. When he gets a new job in southern California, the family moves into a sunny new suburb where Marmaduke spends most of his days in the dog park. But the park isnít just a land where dogs run free; itís more like high school with a caste system and bullies. Marmaduke befriends Raisin (Steve Coogan), Giuseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and spunky gal pal Mazie (Emma Stone). But secretly, he wishes he could hang out with Jezebel (Stacy Ferguson), the queen-bee dog and, coincidentally, the dog of Philís boss Don (William H. Macy). Jezebel, vapidly nice though she may be, has allied herself with top dog Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland), a pedigree snob and a bully.

There is something about talking animals and farting dogs that just makes me tired, much as coming home to a sink full of dirty dishes or a Marmadukian pile of laundry needing folding can make you tired. Iíll get through this, Iíll live to fight another day but I wonít exactly be savoring life.

Because, why do the animalsí mouths need to move? The humans donít know theyíre talking, so why add this level of fakiness? And, OK, I recognize that you gotta give your kids life lessons (like, donít worry so much about popularity if popularity is going to make you a jerk) with a spoonful of pratfall but does there need to be so much dog-afraid-of-bee spastic wackiness? Worse, though, are the painfully dated pop culture references óThe O.C., Dirty Dancing ó that come winging at us, like errant Frisbees, for the benefit of no one, as the kids donít understand them and the parents arenít going to find them funny.

Having said all that, sometimes what you need is a movie where a big dog farts and animals talk and the PG rating means you can zone out. I donít know that I recommend paying the modern movie theater prices to see this movie right now at the cineplex, but some not-too-distant late November day when it is slushing outside and you need some Netflixed or OnDemand-ed entertainment for the family, Marmaduke wonít be the absolute worst of your options. C

Rated PG for some rude humor and language. Directed by Tom Dey and written by Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio (from the comics by Brad Anderson and Phil Leeming), Marmaduke is an hour and 28 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.