TIM LINCE: Marmaduke

Starring (the voices of) Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Kiefer Sutherland. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Released July 28 2010. Certificate PG. Genre – Family Comedy.

My thoughts before

NOW the two major sporting events of the year are over, with British competitors predictably dashing any hope the tabloids built up, we can finally get off the sofa and back into the wide world.

Mums are no longer watching Wimbledon, dads finally finished with football – the kids can stop being bored and get to enjoy the odd non-sporting related family time again.

So this is perfectly timed for the family adventure Marmaduke, based off the comic strip no-one particularly likes.

With some decent voice-actor signed up (although that doesn’t say much, Ricky Gervais stated that voiceover work is ‘money for old rope’ and everyone tends to accept it as it’s so easy and quick to do) this could be the perfect way to please the kids and to get away from the humid weather.

Oh wait, maybe not – with Toy Story 3 out at the moment this will have to be something very special to even compare moderately well.

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And if the other comic-strip-pet-movie (Garfield) is anything to go by this will be a bargain bin film in a year or so.

But there are two ‘live action talking animal’ films I love – Babe and Milo & Otis – so maybe this will be a third. I’m not getting my hopes up though.

Afterwards

I QUESTIONED Marmaduke’s quality early after I walked out today, as I realised my favourite moment was not necessarily anything to do with the movie itself.

From minute one I was sure I recognised the actress who played the mother and as family scenes played out a brain cell was niggling me with increasing frustration.

And then it hit me near the end – and a smile shone across my face as the slight irony dawned on me.

In this very ‘doggy’ film, I realised she was the actress who plays ‘Kitty’ in the genius sitcom Arrested Development.

My personal dilemma aside, the quality of Marmaduke can be rated pretty accurately in the quality of the puns used against the Great Dane: Marma-puke and Marma-fake. The last one doesn’t even rhyme!

It follows, as you’d expect, the large specimen of a mutt moves stateside with his family to California. His owner has a new job with some mean executive who has charged him to come up with a genius marketing campaign for some organic dog food, or something like that. Amongst the creepy dog talking, peeing, farting and causing mayhem a human story was tacked on somewhere.

That’s by-the-by really, as the real storyline is a kind of high school teen drama with dogs.

We follow giant Marmaduke as he makes friends in this weird park full of dogs, and then takes a fancy to Lassie, but she is dating the tough bully dog, and the dependable other female dog (can I use the proper term for that before 9pm?) fancies Marmaduke but she isn’t as hot (I feel weird typing that) as Lassie so she stands no chance – until the end when personality and charm win out (predictably).

It’s like that one storyline in Glee with Rachel, Quinn and Finn. And nearly all high-school films and television programmes. Only with dogs.

And then there are subplots of dog surfing and rejection and running away and redemption. Oh, and dancing. Terrible CGI dog dancing. If you remember the odd dancing baby screensaver that everyone had in 2002 then you’ll get the idea of the visual quality in that.

I think the key problem with the film, and one that can’t really be avoided, is that dogs can’t act.

‘Obviously!’ you say, but in other ‘talking animal’ movies you get more action and little need for dialogue – in Milo & Otis there was no need for eerie CGI mouths moving, the tale was straightforward and charming and exciting to watch.

But in Marmaduke we are left watching aimlessly-looking dogs give numerous lines of dialogue to explain the often convoluted plot points.

Watching dogs’ mouths move with a voiceover and then kind of wander off screen doesn’t make for the thrilling watch. It was dull in fact.

As a spotlight on well-trained dogs this would receive a gold medal at Crufts, but in terms of an entertaining watch it falls well short.

I could see kids start fidgeting and talking in fact, though I guess that’s a sad natural progression of cinema now.

You see, the younger ages have been treated to and are now used to the all-action thrills and spills of 3D films like Monsters & Aliens and How To Train Your Dragon in recent months – the mild one-liners and minor plot twists of falling into a sewer just don’t cut the mustard now.

Marmaduke would have made a killing 15 years ago, where it would have looked fresh and possibly slightly cutting edge, but nowadays the film just looks a little retro and had kids in the theatre yawning.

A Great Dane with sunglasses on might seem funny on paper but it’s been done a million times (Google Image Search for “dog with sunglasses”: 1.9 million results) and the younger crowd demands originality and a little more these days.

And one more thing – William H Macy is one of my favourite bit-part actors (especially in the sublime Magnolia), what is he doing in this?

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