Hollywood seems to be in the recycling mode and this screenplay feels like something that has been warmed over and served again. Think of it as High School Musical with a four-legged cast. With just a little less singing and a little more sniffing, it even has a choreographed dance scene, belligerent bullies, overworked parents, awkward moments of romance and a few flatulence jokes.
For young audience members who haven’t already seen the plot a million times, the talking dogs (courtesy of CGI) may be enough to keep their attention. But for parents, the hackneyed storyline and animated animals are more torturous than entertaining.
It all begins when Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) moves from Kansas to California after his master Phil Winslow (Lee Pace) accepts a new marketing job for an organic dog food company. Phil’s barefoot boss, Don Twombly (Willaim H. Macy) likes to conduct business meetings at the dog park, so Marmaduke gets to come along for the ride. Like any awkward teen, the dog is worried about making new friends. Fortunately he meets three mutts, Mazie (voiced by Emma Stone), Raisin (voiced by Steve Coogan) and Giuseppe (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who introduce him to the park’s dos and don’ts. Yet what Marmaduke really wants is to get in with the pedigreed canines that sun themselves on an exclusive rock formation. He especially desires to get cozy with the collie Jezebel (voice by Stacy Ferguson).
Meanwhile Phil is so caught up in the concerns of a new ad campaign that he overlooks the needs of his wife (Judy Greer) and children (Caroline Sunshine, Finley Jackson, and Mandy and Milana Haines). As with any well-used script, the audience knows things will work out in the end but not before Marmaduke and Phil come to grips with their misplaced aspirations.
Luckily the movie contains minimal content concerns for young viewers. The oversized mutt gets into trouble after his party guests trash the house while the Winslows are away. Some moments of peril occur when Marmaduke tries surfing and later when he and Mazie are swept into an underground water drainage pipe that leads to the L.A. aqueduct system. On a dark and stormy night, Marmaduke also stumbles upon the legendary and elusive rabid dog known as Chupadogra.
While the film comes around to the obligatory warm and fuzzy ending designed to bring harmony to the animal kingdom, this adaptation from newspaper comic strip to the big screen seems too ambitious even for an animal as huge as this Great Dane.