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Marmaduke review

REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS

With its A-list cast and $50 million budget, Marmaduke serves up an intriguing – if not totally convincing – adaptation of Brad Anderson's 1954 comic...

Marmaduke stands proudly with his group - Mazie, Raisin and Giuseppe

I will admit it – when I heard that Owen Wilson had agreed to voice the latest canine-heavy, animal synced cinematic production, I feared the worst. For me, Marmaduke felt like it had the potential to be the final nail in Wilson's career; a career that in recent years has seen Wilson fall from one of Hollywood's unique stars to just another member of its problematic back catalogue. However, after watching Marmaduke and enjoying all that this film has to offer, I feel I owe Wilson et al an apology.

Based on the longitudinal cartoon strip first drawn by Brad Anderson in 1954, Marmaduke tells the tail of the Winslow family and their loveable – if not graceful – Great Dane, aptly named Marmaduke. With his awkward presence and clumsy nature, Marmaduke struggles to fit in with other dogs; but when the head of the household, Phil Winslow, accepts an offer to front a national campaign in California for a leading organic pet-food company, Bark Organic, Marmaduke is presented with the opportunity he needs to re-establish himself. With this in mind, the Dane sets about installing his new persona as a smooth operator – a dog who sniffs ass first and asks questions second – but soon finds that the dog park is merely a canine-college, full of the same delinquents, jocks and social cliques that constitutes a modern American (or English) high school.

Predictably, Marmaduke soon goes the way of so many 'popular' outcasts, striking up a friendship with Mazie (Emma Stone) and her outré following of fellow vagrants, Guiseppe (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Raisin (Steve Coogan). Nevertheless, Marmaduke yearns for the social approval of the pedigrees – the jocks in this instance – before developing feelings for Jezebel (Fergie), the prized girlfriend of alpha male Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland). Meanwhile, the human aspects of the film are presented as a number of side-plots to Marmaduke's prioritised tale which, although common, helps to ensure that the film does not become saturated by what is basically just a story of a teenager's desperate attempts to gain acceptance and popularity.

Unfortunately, Marmaduke soon comes to realise that while he may have left his past behind, the same cannot be said for his gangly, uncoordinated presence. As time goes by, said presence risks losing him his friends, his popularity, but most importantly, his family. As such, Marmaduke must choose what is most important to him and it is this dilemma that makes the film so endearing.

Now, while the premise of this film certainly lacks originality – with the idea having been done countless times before – Marmaduke has a number of saving graces that are sure to guarantee impressive sales amongst children and young families alike. First off, Marmaduke finds strength within its A-list casting. Owen Wilson himself is entertaining as Marmaduke and, while the role itself offers him a very limited range with which to perform, Wilson manages to infuse the same high-energy, zany charisma that has made him one of the most successful comic actors in recent years. Similarly, the casting of both Sutherland and Coogan as Bosco and Raisin respectively are inspired choices, as both of them bring something to the table; whether through Sutherland's straight-talking, coarse dialect or Coogan's portable genius persona.

However, it is the standalone performance of Geoge Lopez which really gives this film leverage. As the voice of Carlos – the Winslows' pet cat and Marmaduke's best friend – Lopez brings a real air of charisma to his feline counterpart, providing both a character for Wilson to bounce off and one that can hold his own despite his undermined, evolutionary status. Without Carlos, Marmaduke has no muse, no safety-net with which to cushion the fall, and on a number of occasions it is Carlos himself who produces the funniest parts of the film.

As expected, Marmaduke is not without its faults. As I discussed, an unoriginal script is ever-present, but it is the film's awful CGI that really makes for pitiful viewing. In an age that has given us the likes of Avatar and Arthur & the Invisibles, poor CGI really has no place in mainstream cinema, especially when you consider the estimated $50 million budget they had to work with. Yet, despite its visual failings, it is the lack of a certain character that I really feel is the film's biggest downfall. At the very start, Phil is unable to make Marmaduke sit down in the bath. However, when Phil's youngest daughter Sarah (Milana Haines) instructs Marmaduke, the dane sits obediently to the youngster's call. Although short, this scene is both heart-warming and funny and one cannot help but feel that the minimalist inclusion of Sarah is one of the film's biggest downfalls. After all, nothing screams family comedy like a child's innocence (see Vince Vaughn's future generation in Couples Retreat if you don't believe me).

While Marmaduke has its shortcomings – and trust me, there are a few – I feel that critics have been overly judgemental on this occasion. Sure, it is hardly what you would call a captivating performance – or even a unique choice – but Marmaduke has a number of good qualities with which it can market itself. While the extras are disappointing, the ability to transfer the film effortlessly to any of our 21st century applications (iPhone, mp3 etc) help regain some of its credibility. If you are looking for a gripping, intense thriller, then I would suggest you give Marmaduke a miss. However, if you are looking for a feel-good, family adventure, this may just be what you are looking for.

Extras

A poor showing that is unlikely to lengthen your involvement with this title, Marmaduke features just a handul of extras including just five deleted scenes and a Marmaduke casting session...

3 stars

See also:

Yogi Bear review

Gulliver's Travels review

Hop review


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