The movie Marmaduke, recently out on DVD, is largely an excuse to make Owen Wilson talk like a dog. Wilson does a fine job embodying the title character with an overtly confident yet whiny personality that suits this hapless Great Dane.
The trailer sold this movie as an identity quest-oversize "teenage" dog tries to fit in-but the plot does not follow a journey from puppy to mature dog. The comic strip "Marmaduke," created in 1954 and still running in newspapers today, depends on the premise that unruly animals are domestic entertainment for stay-at-home families. As a result, the movie version of Marmaduke is almost old-fashioned in its portrayal of family life. But the filmmakers attempt to explain away this lifestyle by transplanting Marmaduke's family from Kansas to Orange County, Calif. The movie's message then becomes a muddled mix of "be yourself" and "pay attention," themes that director Tom Dey attempts to parallel in Marmaduke's owners, the Winslow family.
Unfortunately, the movie brings out the worst in its human actors. The reliably charming Lee Pace and sassy Judy Greer (playing the parents) are underused here, and the relationships among humans and animals is assumed rather than developed.
The most entertaining moments in the film are also those most grounded in the normal interaction of families and pets or animals with other animals. The friendship between Marmaduke and the Winslows' Siamese cat Carlos (voiced by George Lopez) is both comical and endearing. Unfortunately, these moments are compromised by surreal scenes of doggy surfing and synchronized dancing. The movie also falls into stereotypes typical of animal movies, such as making the canine bully a Rottweiler (of course).
Marmaduke does not pack the emotional punch of Homeward Bound or the self-aware cleverness of Garfield. An innocuous film, the PG rating comes from rude humor (mostly involving canine body functions) and very mild language. However, there is nothing here that elevates Marmaduke past the level of a cute, one-time viewing strictly for fans of talking-animal films.