When it comes to movie adaptations, the overriding complaint centers upon a lack of faithfulness to the subject matter’s soul or fundamental quality. So, it comes as a somewhat refreshing surprise that Marmaduke does not disregard or defame its origins; at least, it couldn’t possibly do so any more than the ongoing charade that originated in 1954. Indeed, no movie based upon this drooling Great Dane could ever give the finger to an audience quite as well as “artist” Brad Anderson, who has somehow maintained a lucrative livelihood by drawing an endless series of isolated panels depicting a huge, clumsy dog that wreaks havoc upon his surroundings. If only we could all be so lucky to merely pantomime the same concept in a handful of different ways and never find ourselves forced to move beyond the profundity of “STR-R-R-R-ETCH PLOP!”
What a sham.
Quite simply, “Marmaduke” has no place as a syndicated comic strip — let alone one that’s persisted for over half a century with no redeeming cultural, social, or entertainment value — and offers nothing for cinematic adaptation beyond the existence of the titular pup and his long-suffering owners. So, the very basic realization of a Marmaduke movie required a fair amount of creativity and effort, even if the script does begin and end with ceremonious flatulence, and the middle of that shit sandwich isn’t necessarily any more appealing. After all, this is a tale of live-action dogs with computer-generated woofers, and the effect is much like “The Moving Lips” skits from “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds — even before the surfing and dancing begins — which betrays any appeal these animals would otherwise have. In particular, Great Danes really are a gorgeous breed of dog, and the creature who functions as the titular hound is woefully spoilt by a pair of ridiculously flapping jowls that the filmmakers decided were necessary as a means for Owen Wilson’s surfer dude voice to spill forth. And when that happens, the dog-related puns (e.g., “a new leash on life”) run amuck, as does Marmaduke in a series of never-ending chases.
This movie also relies upon the ignorance of its human characters, so the “two-leggers” (who never notice that their pets speak) are entirely unimportant except as a framing device. At the beginning of the movie, the Winslow family moves from Kansas to Orange County, which gives Marmaduke and his feline brother, Carlos (George Lopez), an opportunity to make trouble in a new setting. Now, Marmaduke gets to hang at a dog park, which he soon finds is much like high school. Immediately, he falls in with the Mutt squad — Giuseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Raisin (Steve Coogan), and Mazie (Emma Stone) — the latter of whom shows him the ropes and develops an obligatory unrequited love for the Duke — but the Great Dane predictably falls for one of the Purebreds, a Border Collie called Jezebel (Fergie, not the dutchess but the singer). Oh, but Jezebel has already been claimed by the reigning Top Dog, a Rottweiler named Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland). So, the underdog (sorry) must dethrone the existing social leader and become Top Dog before throwing a rather disastrous house party where Bosco humiliates the protagonist, who is then abandoned even by the Mutts. In other words, Marmaduke plays like a canine version of Mean Girls without the pop psychology or a screenwriter’s hindsight of maturity.
Just to make the audience experience even more underwhelming, Marlon and Damon Wayans pop in to voice a pair of Dachshunds, and Sam Elliot embarrasses himself as the legendary Chupadogra (a feral, rabies-ridden English Mastiff), an unlikely source of hackneyed wisdom. At a certain point, however, I was merely relieved that this wasn’t one of those doggy snuff films like Marley & Me. That’s pretty much the sole positive outcome of Marmaduke. Well, that and the possibility of renting it on DVD and enhancing the experience with pot brownies to take full advantage of the scene where Marmaduke and Carlos, like, totally trip out on tranquilizers (not to mention those funky-looking mushrooms at the dog park). Maybe for those very specific at-home viewers, Marmaduke might reveal the occasional esoteric truth. For everyone else, ignore this movie and shun all pseudo-nostalgic memories of the comic-strip as well.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.