In recent years, there has been some speculation amongst film scholars as to whether or not the actual physical presence of alleged actor Owen Wilson is enough to turn a film into a great big steaming pile of dog shit. And, while his latest starring effort, Marmaduke — another in a line of big-screen adaptations of long-running comic strips that nobody asked for — is just as great and big of steaming pile of dog shit that only a canine like Marmaduke could possibly muster, it still remains to be proved whether or not Owen Wilson’s performance in this kiddie flick (he provides the voice for Marmaduke — a character that never talked at all in the comic stripp — via his patented droning) is indeed what makes this such a stinker.
Let’s face it: this is a kiddie flick, after all. Anybody over the age of 27 possessing an IQ above, say, room temperature, is bound to be offended by it.
As you may have deduced, I am not a big fan of kiddie films in general (to say nothing of Owen Wilson vehicles), and Marmaduke is certainly no exception. It’s a tepid, poorly-acted, utter brain-killer of a feature; the cinematic equivalent of pork tartar, wherein the human actors (Lee Pace, Judy Greer, William H. Macy, et al) act like they recently received a hearty endorsement from the Act Stupid Foundation to give the most lymphatic performances of their careers (although this could very well be Pace’s most believable performance to date, but that‘s the subject of another debate between film scholars).
Of course, in a film like this, the real actors are the animals. The critter side of the cast mostly consists of canines (which I am also not overly fond of, but that’s irrelevant), with one or two cats (one of whom is voiced by George Lopez — a cunning move on behalf of the studio to get the Latino children into the theaters) thrown into the fray so no one will shout “You racist bastards!” (just like the voice casting of Lopez and two of the sixteen-hundred Wayans Brothers). And not only do the four-legged performers own the show here, but they also steal it: out-acting their human cohorts left and right (British comedian David Walliams’ moments are shown via a montage segment, thus suggesting he was adding some sort of life to the film and had to be stopped in post-production) — which should be fully expected in a film that is specifically focused on animals to begin with…which begs the question, “Should I be so harsh on the film?”
You bet your mangy Marmaduke-lovin’ ass I should.
While Marmaduke may be just the thing to keep a couple of kids that find it hard to focus on a single arithmetic problem in school busy for an hour-and-a-half, the truth is the filmmakers behind this dog must’ve been inspired with laziness. The film bears little to no resemblance to its comic strip origins at all, and comes off as more of a stripped-down cross with the latter day silver screen versions of Garfield and Scooby-Doo. Our story involves Marmaduke’s human family moving from Kansas to sunny Southern California for a job opportunity, and Marmaduke’s attempts to fit in with all of the local dogs at the Bark Park (yes, it’s basically just another “awkward kid moves to a new high school” film — only without the charm).
Our canine hero befriends a few local mutts (voiced by Emma Stone, Steve Coogan, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse), while dreaming of joining the ranks of the prestigious purebred pedigrees, led by the mighty Bosco (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, whom the producers had embarrassing nude photos of, no doubt) and getting down n’ dirty with Bosco’s girlfriend, Jezebel (whose voice is provided by Fergie, — the most unforgivable and damaging insult that the entire organization of casting directors has inflicted upon us since casting Owen Wilson as Marmaduke).
Honestly, if the story sounds refreshing and like it’s worth your time, go out and rent it. Better yet, buy it. You deserve it. I’m done talking about it. It still hurts. The pain. The bad.
As for the debate of “Does Owen Wilson have to actually physically appear in a movie in order to ruin it?,” well, it lingers on. Marmaduke was a bad idea even before his name was drawn out of the Has-Been Hat.
For its eagerly dreaded home video release, Marmaduke has been issued on disc in a standard DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo. The Blu-ray release boasts a 1080p/AVC transfer which preserves the film’s 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, and the audio/video aspects of this bomb are the only appealing portions of the entire sordid mess. The picture is very bright (hey, it’s sunny LA, remember?), and offers some strikingly-solid colors and contrast throughout. Even the night-time scenes look great. A pity the movie isn’t. On the audio front, Marmaduke delivers a well-mixed DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 soundtrack, which surpasses any expectations the average cynic such as myself might hold for it. In short: it looks good, it sounds good, but it’s still a stupid movie.
In case you’re wondering if Marmaduke could get any worse on home video (aside from the more than adequate A/V facets, that is), the answer is a big ol’ “Yes.” Adorning the crappy film is an assortment of squalid special features, beginning with some “home movies” of a baby Marmaduke and Carlos (the Siamese cat voiced by George Lopez in the film). While the sight of two young critters playing together is cutesy and all that, this useless promo piece (narrated by young human actor Finley Jacobson) is just that: a useless promo piece.
Next up are an unfunny gag reel, nine-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes, some behind-the-scenes moments of surfing dogs (there’s a whole bit of it in the movie, in case you’re wondering why this is here), a look at the casting of the dogs featured in the film (no, there’s nothing presenting the human casting of the film, so you don’t have to worry about seeing Owen Wilson), a theatrical trailer (no, not the one with the Ke$ha song, so there’s another plus, I guess), and some sneak peeks at Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Additional trailers for a couple of other family/kiddie-oriented titles (including the upcoming direct-to-video Marley & Me: The Terrible 2’s — arrgh!) play automatically when the disc boots up).
**Please note that the standard DVD issue only contains about half of the special features included on the BD release.**
So, the bottom line: Marmaduke sucks. Feel free to subject your children to it if you wish, though: the national morale with children isn’t at question here, after all.