So I’m sitting there, no child to guide me, watching “Marmaduke” and thinking that the picture will satisfy its demographic ” a group I won’t define, because you know who you are and I don’t want to upset you so much that you can’t color within the lines anymore. And then something happened, and my critical generosity vaporized. More on that later.
Based on a newspaper comic that has been bringing smiles to the faces of the easily amused since 1954, “Marmaduke” follows the Winslow family as they move to California from Kansas. Father Phil (Chickasha native Lee Pace, “A Single Man“) has taken a job as head of marketing for an organic dog-food company owned by Don Twombly (William H. Macy, “The Tale of Despereaux“). He has only a few days to get the product on the shelves of every PETCO store in America.
Phil’s kids pay no attention to him. His teen daughter, Barbara (newcomer Caroline Sunshine) hates leaving her BFFs in Kansas. She’s such a snotty little jerk, you’d think she’d fit right into the SoCal teen scene. Mom Debbie (Judy Greer, “27 Dresses“), in true sitcom fashion, is the voice of patience and reason.
The family’s 200-pound Great Dane, Marmaduke, narrates the story, and his adventures mirror those of Barbara. Because of his size, the neighborhood canines think he’s a freak. He has to hang out with the dog losers, mainly a tomboy named Mazie (Emma Stone, “Zombieland“) and a too-smart-for-school mutt named Raisin (Steve Coogan, “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief“). The cool dogs in the park are the bully, Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland, TV’s “24“); his vain girlfriend, Jezebel (Stacy Ferguson, “Nine“); and his hangers-on, Thunder and Lightning (Damon Wayans Jr. and Marlon Wayans, “Dance Flick“). When the cool dogs find out that Marmaduke lives with a cat named Carlos (George Lopez, “Valentine’s Day“), his stock falls faster than BP’s.
If you’re over the age of 7, the storyline is painfully predictable, but my guess is that it would all work for the tots. There really isn’t anything here for older kids, and adults might as well buy a ticket to stare at a blank screen.
As the voice of Marmaduke, Owen Wilson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox“) has to carry the movie, and he does his job well. He has always had a likable quality to his voice, and never sounded like one of those actors who really has to work hard to not sound like an actor. In fact, the whole cast is good, although I’m getting tired of Lopez’s second-rate Cheech Marin shtick.
It’s at the film’s conclusion that director Tom Dey (“Failure to Launch“) made the fatal error of turning to the CGI team loose to force all the dog characters to dance in sync to The Romantics’ “What I Like About You.” It’s ghastly and completely out of character for the movie we’ve just seen.
Even the kids in the audience didn’t laugh, and it was the deal-breaker for me. “Doug Bentin