Review: Marmaduke

By  · Published on June 7th, 2010

We seem to have entered an age where the lazy joke is looked down upon with disappointment and despair. No longer is it safe to hide in the realm of the children’s movie – the genre has been taken over by clever artists hiding fantastical imagery and characters amongst smart dialog and crisp plotlines. The phrase “fun for the whole family” actually came true at a certain point. Probably thanks to Pixar.

Now, movies like Marmaduke are relegated to the trash heap where just a decade or so ago, people might have defended it for being aimed squarely at 8 year olds.

Phil Winslow (Lee Pace) has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make it big with an organic pet food company out in California so he packs up his wife Debbie (Judy Greer) and his two kids, Barbara and Brian (Caroline Sunshine and Finley Jacobsen) to movie to Orange County. Fortunately, they bring along their giant Great Dane Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) who farts a lot and destroys things.

To be fair, there are two real plot lines at work. Phil needs to impress his crazy boss (Oscar Nominee William H. Macy), and he’s having difficulty doing that and being a part of the family. Marmaduke wants to outgrow his awkward phase in a new city, but he might just forget himself in the process.


I imagine some walked out of the film angry or bored or disgusted by the lack of anything interesting going on, but the problem seems simple. The jokes are just too easy. All of them. Every single one. From Marmaduke knocking over things because he’s big to him throwing a big party while his family is a way (and not inviting Kid or Play).

Unfortunate rhymes aside, I blame the source material. The cartoon strip wasn’t a grand bastion of interesting comedy, and here, the movie suffers for it by looking to a 50 year old source of humor to make a movie for 2010. No amount of migraine-inducing, dancing CGI dogs can make up for the fact that the comedy in this film is about as cutting edge as a Vaudeville show. On second thought, it’s less edgy because Vaudeville at least had black face.

Not that I would expect social subversion in a children’s movie, but the age of the comedy shows throughout. I can’t imagine that with the exposure to entertainment and media that children today would laugh at any of what’s on screen.

It’s as if the film was written by the writers at American’s Funniest Videos.

The real shame is that the cast is dynamite. Lee Pace was brilliant (yet under-appreciated) on “Pushing Daisies” and in The Fall, Judy Greer is one of the best female comedic presences out there, Steve Coogan, Kiefer Sutherland, Emma Stone, Owen Wilson, Damon Wayans, Marlon Wayans, William H. Macy, Sam Elliot. They all have a seasoned history of acting, comedy, or they’re up-and-coming stars that continue to make a mark. None of them are utilized in any way – courtesy of a moronic script and a paint-by-numbers story.

The movie isn’t all bad. It’s relatively harmless. There’s just nothing on screen that hasn’t been done a thousand times before, a thousand times better, and without the cheese on top. Still, the production had the stones to place one of the characters in very real danger near the climax, which was a welcome change to the mild nothingness of the rest of the film. It’s too little too late though.

Over all, the movie is a waste of time. But what else could you expect from an adaptation of an unfunny square inch that appears in the newspaper each Sunday?

The Upside: A great group of actors…

The Downside: …that aren’t showcased in any way, the easiest, laziest brand of humor possible, and CGI dancing dogs

On the Side: Director Tom Dey also churned out Shanghai Noon and Failure to Launch.

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