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‘Marmaduke: The Movie’ Is Pretty Terrible [Review]

As some ComicsAlliance readers are probably aware, the time that I don’t spend writing about Batman is spent (among other things) reviewing the worst movies I can find on Netflix. This, according to ComicsAlliance Editor-in-Chief Laura Hudson, made me the perfect choice to head to the theater to catch “Marmaduke,” the new film based on the long-running newspaper strip.

As you might expect, Laura and I are no longer speaking to each other.

On the bright side, my constant exposure to z-grade cinema means “Marmaduke” wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, although the tradeoff is that with Netflix, I don’t actually have to walk up to another person and say the words “I would like a ticket to ‘Marmaduke,’ please.”

“Marmaduke” faced a pretty unique challenge in winning me over as a moviegoer in that I have absolutely no idea why it exists. Usually with this sort of thing, I can at least see why the filmmakers thought they could make some money out of this, but with “Marmaduke,” I am utterly mystified. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you already know that the producers decided not to put any effort into creating likable characters or a script with jokes that weren’t terrible, so they’re clearly relying on the “Marmaduke” brand to sell the whole thing, which actually seems like a pretty safe bet — according to the movie’s website, the strip runs in over 600 newspapers — until you actually think about it.

Seriously: Does anyone actually like “Marmaduke?” I’ve been walking this planet for almost 28 years, and the closest I’ve come to finding someone who likes Marmaduke is finding someone fascinated by the strip’s vague, sinister subtext that implies that Marmaduke is a murderous, man-eating hellhound:

I guess people who are way into having huge dogs might get the occasional “it’s so true!” chuckle out of it, but really, how many “it’s more like Marmaduke’s walking them!” jokes can you possibly see before it loses its lustre and you join the rest of us who are firmly planted in the “Marmaduke Sucks” camp? Even the crazy cat ladies who wear faded Garfield sweatshirts and cruise yard sales trying to haggle an Odie puzzle down from a quarter to a dime (true story) think Marmaduke sucks.

Also, it’s worth noting that the website describes Marmaduke as “the world’s most popular Great Dane,” a title that I think Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and the staff of Mystery, Inc. would probably have something to say about.

Anyway, despite my disbelief, I went into the theater and once the movie started — which in my case came after a car commercial where some hamsters covered Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours” and a trailer for some Dreamworks-lookin’ nonsense that seems to literally be about two wolves having sex with each other — Marmaduke (Owen Wilson) demolished the fourth wall to introduce the cast.

And that is the single craziest thing about the movie: It has an amazing cast. Lee Pace (Ned from TV’s “Pushing Daisies”), Judy Greer (Kitty from “Arrested Development”), Steve Coogan (“Alan Partridge” and a host of other stuff), William H. Macy (Academy Award-nominated for his role in “Fargo”), Sam Elliot (Sam Freaking Elliot)… Swap out Marlon Wayans for Steve Buscemi and that’s basically a Coen Brothers movie. It’s mind-boggling how they all ended up in this thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that these are people for whom acting is a job and Lee Pace has to work for a living, but to get a cast with that many talented people and then waste them on a movie where they act the hell out of a truly awful script just boggles the mind. I mean, I never thought I’d say it, but George Lopez, you can do better than this.

Which brings us around to the script, and yes: It’s pretty bad. Pity poor Lee Pace, who not only has to react with one of several labored “Maaaaaaaarmaduke, noooooo!”s when the dog interrupts him snuggling up to Judy Greer with a loud and allegedly hilarious fart, but deserves an Oscar for keeping a smile plastered on his face when he has to say the word “cowabarka” during a surfing competition.

The film opens with a metaphor so tortured that it ought to have been a villain in “Cry For Justice,” setting up dog society as an analogue for cliquey high school society (which is really just modern society in general). In order to get to this point, the movie has to go through some insane plot gymnastics to create a world in which an advertising executive can just do his job from a dog park every day without ever once going into an office, but it’s worth it, as it then allows the makers to rip off — excuse me, homage — virtually every teen movie cliché there is.

When the movie isn’t indulging in more references to urine than a collection of German erotica (which arrive every five minutes with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker), it’s throwing out punny, “Epic Movie”-ish references to the movies it’s “homaging.” A scene lifted straight out of “Karate Kid’ is accompanied with a puppy in the background yelling “put him in a doggie bag,” a riff on “Almost Famous” includes a Retriever yelling “I am a golden dog,” a couple of “hilarious” stoner dogs quote “Wayne’s World.” These are not only lame, utterly humorless references, they’re also really dated.

And they only get even more inexplicable once the dogs are removed from the equation: The main character’s daughter ends up dating a surfer kid named Bodhi, which is the name of the surfing bank robber Patrick Swayze played in “Point Break.” That was actually kind of awesome, as I was able to spend a few minutes thinking about how great “Point Break” is instead of paying attention to Marmaduke farting, but I can’t imagine that was the filmmakes’ actual intent.

I don’t even want to get into the main plot about Marmaduke finding acceptance and getting the girl, because it’s really stupid and if you’ve seen any movie ever, you already know exactly how it plays out. I do think it’s interesting to note, however, that at the beginning of the movie, everyone in the family except Lee Pace’s character exists in a state balanced between learned helplessness and Stockholm Syndrome, building their lives around Marmaduke’s uncontrollable destructive rampages.

There’s also a bizarre subtext to it that see Marmaduke literally sleeping between Pace and Greer, and when he finally tries to make the dog sleep outside as punishment for trashing their house like Mötley Crüe circa 1987, her response to him kicking Marmaduke out of their bed is to kick him out of her bed. Thus emasculated, he learns his true place as a broken man subservient to the true man of the house, a dog with the voice of Owen Wilson.

That’s what I took away from it, anyway, so hey! If you’re into weird sexual subtext, fart jokes and actors paying off their mortgages, “Marmaduke” is probably the movie for you.

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