Marmaduke (review)

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It’s a Dog

How have I forgotten to review Marmaduke? This is the defining movie of our time, a poignant and incisive depiction of the relationship between man and beast as metaphor for the breakdown of community structures in our fast-paced, wired world–

No, wait. No, it isn’t. This is the movie that I only decided to see out of sympathy for Lee Pace and Judy Greer, two spectacularly talented and funny actors whom hardly anyone knows what to do with. I mean, what the fuck: Pushing Daisies gets cancelled but Marmaduke gets made? Lee Pace must think himself cursed.
Why a Marmaduke movie? Just because it’s been filling space on the comics pages of newspapers since, like, the postwar period? Someone needs to tell someone in Hollywood that that doesn’t make it “beloved” or anything. No one thinks Marmaduke is funny. What’s next: a Family Circus movie? Where o where is the hero who will save us?

This is a movie about a Great Dane with Owen Wilson’s (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) voice who interrupts a marital kiss between Pace (When in Rome, A Single Man) and Greer’s (27 Dresses, American Dreamz) hapless suburbanites by farting in as smelly a manner as possible, and then saying to us — we can, dear god, hear Marmaduke talk — “I know it’s juvenile, but it’s all I’ve got.” And in the most self-aware moment of the film, Marmaduke is correct: this is all he’s got. He is discounting, naturally, his dispatching of crotch injury to William H. Macy (Shorts, The Tale of Despereaux; he plays Lee Pace’s boss at the organic dog food company they both work at, and– oh, never mind). Marmaduke is not the dog who pees in that one guy’s coffee at the dog park, or else he’d probably claim that as the “all” he’s “got.”

This is one of those movies that we’re not supposed to complain about because it’s “for kids,” as if kids aren’t smart enough to recognize shit. Or as if we wouldn’t mind serving our kids shit. I wouldn’t want my kids, if I had any, anywhere near this, unless I actually wanted to inculcate in them scream-inducing 1950s gender stereotypes. Which I wouldn’t.

Hey, it all makes sense now: Marmaduke the newspaper cartoon panel is a leftover from the gender-stifled 1950s, and so the talents who created this flick — that would be screenwriters Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio, who wrote License to Wed and somehow still managed to get more work — figured it would be the proper homage. I’m clinging to this notion, because the other alternative is too awful to think about (and I’m desperately trying to pretend that I don’t think this is true): that even the fucking talking-dog movie for kids is all male-gazy, with the default “norm” male, even in the 21st century. See, it’s a commentary on the postwar denigration of women — yeah, that’s the ticket — that all the talking animals here are male unless they’re one of the two female dog “love interests” for Marmaduke… who is male, of course; girls don’t need stories told about them. (Oh, no, wait: there are the two Afghan hounds who are supposed to be ditzy female cheerleaders. Because ditziness is inherently female. And because the dog park is exactly like high school, and because dogs are exactly like people.) So there’s Jezebel (the voice of Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson: Nine, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa), the “hot” “popular” collie who only dispenses her lady affections to the “top dog,” who is — unless Marmaduke can displace him — Rottweiler Bosco (the voice of Kiefer Sutherland: Monsters vs. Aliens, The Sentinel). And director Tom Dey gives us the slo-mo, gauzy gaze at Jezebel, because she’s, you know, hot. To a straight male dog, that is.

Do we get a similarly lingering gaze at Marmaduke by Mazie (the voice of Emma Stone: Zombieland, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), the “ugly” “uncool” lady dog who, for reasons unknown and inexplicable, thinks Marmaduke is really awesome and would like to be his girlfriend? No, of course not. Because Marmaduke is inherently desirable, perhaps, by sheer dint of his being male and the protagonist of the story (I just threw up a little in my mouth writing that). But we do get to witness Marmaduke’s feline friend Carlos (the voice of George Lopez: Valentine’s Day, The Spy Next Door) declare than a human female is “fine.” Because there’s nothing weird or creepy about a cat thinking a human woman is hot.

And of course there’s a whole freakin’ subplot about “what girls want,” via which Marmaduke learns to be a better man and will — I shit you not — teach Lee Pace’s harried dad to be a better dad. I’ll tell Hollywood something for free: All girls don’t want the same thing, but it’s probably a safe bet to say that girls do not want fucking Owen Wilson as a dog who farts.

You know how I survived this movie? I had a little imaginary affair with Lee Pace: whenever he was onscreen, I was happy… or at least less unhappy. It was tough, because while director Tom Dey — he of the execrable Failure to Launch, though to be fair also of the pretty funny Shanghai Noon — has no problem sexualizing his female canine actors in a movie for kids and doesn’t think there’s anything weird about that, he doesn’t realize that he could have done the same for his male human actors without it being weird: just let the camera linger for a moment or two. Is that so much to ask?


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Tue, Jun 08, 2010 11:31pm

Lee Pace is one of those hidden treasures that made Wonderfalls such a treat, and then he turned around and made his great work there look amateurish in Pushing Daisies. I didn’t know he was in this, and now part of me is sad while the other part is just thankful he has eyeballs on him and has not faded into obscurity. In the future, may those eyeballs please be ones that have made better decisions about which cinema to walk into.

Wed, Jun 09, 2010 12:41am

Wonderful review! I appreciated the feminist perspective.

Jim Mann
Jim Mann
Wed, Jun 09, 2010 10:59am

I haven’t seen — and don’t plan to see — the movie. I’ve only seen the trailers. But another annoying feature about this film is that Marmaduke is one of the few animal-based comics in which the animal doesn’t talk or have thought balloons that the reader can follow. He’s just a dog, who does silly, big dog things (in a repetitive, doing the same thing over and over again in a way to challenge Family Circus). He’s not Garfield, but they seem to have made the movie that way.

Wed, Jun 09, 2010 11:37am

Judy Greer was so funny and sexy on a Big Bang Theory episode a few weeks ago that I was wondering if she was going to do something interesting next, guess not

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 6:15pm

Wow, they dumbed down Marmaduke.

I can’t believe I wrote that sentence.

Tonio Kruger
Thu, Jun 10, 2010 9:38pm

Well, Paul, they had to. The original source material was way too intellectually pretentious to appeal to the type of people who’d pay good money to see MacGruber.

Fri, Jun 11, 2010 10:03am

What Jim Mann said above. OK, I feel ridiculous arguing for the preservation of the artistic integrity of Marmaduke, but I loved the comic panel as a little kid, and to some degree I still kinda-sorta like it. Yes, it’s a one-joke panel about Marmaduke, a big dog who’s funny because he’s really big… but dangit, big, goofy, friendly dogs are funny!

And dammit, Marmaduke is a dog, who acts like a dog and does things that dogs do. He does not talk.

You wanna make a paint-by-numbers talking dog movie that insults the intelligence of even five-year-olds, fine, but get your own damn talking dog!

Fri, Jun 11, 2010 1:41pm

And dammit, Marmaduke is a dog, who acts like a dog and does things that dogs do.

That’s what was so damn appealing about *Marley and Me*: Marley was a real dog, and the story was realistic about dog ownership, while also still be entertaining and even silly in spots.

Fri, Jun 11, 2010 2:11pm

And why even bother with fakey CGI talking animals, when the real thing (or some approximation thereof) has so much potential to tug at the emotions of us humans? (Humans who spend over four times as much on pets – about $45 billion per year – as we do going to movies?)

And ever notice how the movies that *do* feature semi-realistic portrayals of our animal friends tend to do well, and even make cynical grown-ups cry, and….

Dammit, MaryAnn, why’d you have to make me start thinking about *My Dog Skip*? Now I got something in my eye….

Thu, Jul 01, 2010 6:15am

Lee Pace is in a fantastic film called “The Fall” where he plays an actor with a broken leg and a drug habit. He lies in a hospital bed while an adorable little girl comes to see him each day to hear more of the story he tells her. Their relationship is endearing and destructive and there’s a really intense emotional scene where Pace confronts his continual manipulation of the girl which has lead directly to her injury.
Plus, we get to see Lee Pace in a sleeveless smock and Zorro mask. mmmmm…

Bryan Layton
Bryan Layton
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:05pm

The level of hate from this review, and subsequent comments, is way out of proportion for what amounts to a harmless family movie. Marmaduke the comic and movie are so inconsequential that being aggressively nasty towards it reflects more on the speaker than the creators.