Once upon a time, there was a promising young acting talent who went by the name of Owen Wilson. Shaggy of hair, crooked of nose, he had that wholesome surfer dude charm thing in spades - yet was, loveably, a bit rough around the edges. Along with his creative soul mate and long-time collaborator, Wes Anderson, he almost rescued 'quirky' from being a dirty word. Credible darling of indie fans and populists alike, his future looked bright. Then came Drillbit Taylor. Whoops. The Butterscotch Stallion let things slip a bit there. But we all make mistakes. Then came Marley And Me... but if someone offered you a bucket of gold you'd probably take it too, right? In fact, Marley & Me turned out to be such a good idea some bright spark thought they'd go one better. How about not just getting Wilson to play the owner of a loveable but disaster-prone family dog; how about actually getting Owen Wilson to play a loveable but disaster-prone family dog?
So, there you have it: Owen Wilson is Marmaduke, a character based on the popular, interminably long-running American comic strip of the same name: a sunglasses-wearing pet Great Dane - loveable but disaster-prone - who not only talks, but with the power of soul-destroyingly charmless CGI, also breakdances. As if that weren't entertainment enough, the scriptwriters generously batter us with canine wordplay and neologisms from every angle: Chupa Dogra, 'it's raining cats and dogs', boneillionaire, Barkanova, Marma-fake, Marma-puke, cowa-barka, 'who let the dogs out'? Those are just some personal favourites, but the list really is endless. And let's not forget those fart jokes.
You'd think, with a concept as powerful as this, a plot wouldn't even really be necessary. And yet, ever the consummate professionals, Tom Dey and his team go that extra mile to generously furnish us with one: something about Marmaduke not being a very cool dog but eventually realising that being cool is actually about not caring about being cool. Or something. Whoever said popular entertainment talks down to kids these days?
All that aside, it's important to be fair to Wilson here. After all, he's in good company. William H Macy, perhaps most depressingly, co-stars as the creepy boss of Marmaduke's dopey owner; David Walliams appears as a woefully unfunny dog trainer and Kiefer Sutherland and Steve Coogan also embarrass themselves as members of the canine voice cast. And Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas continues to embarrass herself playing a sexy Lassie dog named Jezebel. Maybe there were lots of buckets of gold to go around this time.
In a nutshell: Owen Wilson plays a lovable but disaster prone family dog. Much like sliced bread, these ideas don't come around very often, but when they do...
By Sophie Ivan