Wilson and Anderson! Together again after “Bottle Rocket,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited.” Whoops. Right Wilson, wrong Anderson. This weekend Owen Wilson collaborates with Brad Anderson, not Wes, in a live action adaptation of Anderson’s long running comic “Marmaduke.” The arty flourishes and subtle humor of Wilson’s work with Wes has been replaced with big-dog-in-a-little-car comedy.
Marmaduke (voice of Owen Wilson) is an unruly Great Dane with a habit of speaking directly into the camera. As the film’s narrator he introduces us to his family and leads us through the story of how Phil (Lee Pace), a dog food executive in Kansas, winds up moving the family to California and working for that state’s biggest manufacturer of organic kibble (a slumming William H. Macy). Before you can say “Kowabarka” Marmaduke is “getting his bark on” in The Golden State, winning a surfing contest, falling for a girl dog with Farah Fawcett fur, faking a cat attack to impress Alfa dog Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland) and tearing up the house. Oh that Marmaduke!
Not since Bill Murray loaned his voice to “Garfield” has a hip actor gone to the dogs like this. We can forgive Wilson the odd misstep like “You, Me and Dupree” as long as he keeps appearing in movies like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” but “Marmaduke” earns him a week wearing a shock collar. Bad dog!
He’s not alone. Kiefer Sutherland, Steve Coogan, George Lopez, Sam Elliott and the Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie all take advantage of the easy money of voice acting, but it is Wilson, in the title role, who must take the lion’s share (canine’s share?) of the blame for this. Where is the Humane Society when you really need them? Somewhere Benji and Rin Tin Tin are rolling over (in their graves) at the state of doggie style movies for kids.
Tots may find some fun in the talking animals and gentle action, but there is nothing here for anyone over the age of five except bad puns—Dog Vader, anyone? Boneillionaire, perhaps?—and an allegedly heartwarming story that actually gave me heartburn.
“Marmaduke” is an instantaneously forgettable kid’s flick that’s all bark, no laughs. There are no treats in “Marmaduke,” doggie or otherwise.