Marmaduke almost got itself an extra half star by virtue of not slapping “Who Let the Dogs Out?” on its soundtrack. It lost that half star by using the song’s title as a joke not once, but twice in its desperate bid for laughs. I admit I did laugh once, but it was at a joke that would probably mean little to anyone who has never owned an Afghan hound, so I’d only recommend the gag to a select few. Otherwise, this is a talking-animal movie. It’s a talking-animal movie based on a one-joke, not-very-funny comic strip. That should be sufficient information for anyone old enough to read this review. But if further evidence is needed for why this movie should be avoided, read on.
The movie is less than five minutes old when it hits the audience with its first Marmaduke flatulence joke. It will not be the last. In fact, a good deal of the film’s idea of humor appears to be grounded in bodily functions, which is perhaps not surprising given the kind of movie it is. Yes, the technical effects that allow the filmmakers to make the animals mouths appear to be spouting the inane dialogue are a vast improvement over the superimposed animations on the camels’ mouths in Road to Morocco (1942). It’s also a lot creepier, and a testament to the fact that just because you can do something, it does not follow that you should do it. Did we learn nothing from Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)?
Is there a story? Well, yes. You may have had the misfortune of encountering it fairly recently. It’s about a success-hungry family man (Lee Pace) who uproots his family—against their will—and moves them to a new location. They’re all miserable, but he is too busy trying to cater to the whims of his unreasonable boss to notice. If that sounds familiar, you have my sympathies, because it means you saw Furry Vengeance, too. Oh, it wasn’t that original in Furry Vengeance either. I’m not sure the modern family film could exist without the distracted workaholic dad.
Of course, there is a secondary story—or maybe it’s the primary story—about Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) trying to fit in so he can snag the hot collie (voiced by Stacy Ferguson) in town. It follows that Marmaduke forgets his real friends—and the long-suffering Australian shepherd (voiced by Emma Stone) that’s in love with him—and has to learn life lessons just like his master. There’s a dramatic last-minute thrill sequence that isn’t very thrilling and a predictably happy ending—capped off with, you guessed it, a flatulence joke. It’s depressing to realize that that, too, is predictable. Rated PG for some rude humor and language.