MOVIE REVIEW: Marmaduke can't fetch hit movie

Photo by Joseph Lederer

Photo by Joseph Lederer

Marmaduke (PG)

1/2 out of 4 stars

The best thing that can be said about “Marmaduke” is that it’s not “Furry Vengeance.” It’s based on the single-block comic strip of the same name that started in the ’50s and is slightly more daring than “Family Circus.”

Given the low number of today’s children younger than 6 who actually read newspaper comic sections, the filmmakers probably figured they don’t have much of fan base to answer to by messing with the source material’s “integrity.”

They’ve abandoned the quaint, cornpone, middle America mindset of the strip and opted for a “hip,” digitized, thoroughly lame family action/comedy aimed squarely at those same 6-year-olds not reading the strip. Based on the lukewarm, non-reaction of the few children present at the press screening, even they didn’t like it.

Owen Wilson voices the title character — an oversized Great Dane — with his trademark goofy, surfer-dude hipster befuddlement and like most of the other animal voice performances, is suitably on the mark. Fergie (the singer, not the recently embarrassed ex-princess) is a Shetland Sheepdog, two of the Wayan brothers are mini-Dobermans, George Lopez inhabits a wise-cracking Balinese cat and Kiefer Sutherland lends his gravely baritone to a menacing Beauceron. All the critter characters sound great — what they actually say and do is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Because these non-human characters are domesticated house pets, director Tom Dey (“Shanghai Noon,” “Failure to Launch”) and his screenwriters decide they should spend most of their time destroying property, going to the bathroom in the wrong places and passing gas. As anyone will tell you, there is positively nothing in the world funnier than hearing a dog break wind. Thankfully there is no sniffing around you-know-where and the slobbering is kept to a minimum.

Considering how far technology and CGI has come, the manipulated movement of the animals’ mouths is relatively primitive, clunky and on occasion, kind of creepy. This is one area where “Furry Vengeance” bests “Marmaduke” — it didn’t even try to make their animals appear to actually speak.

As pathetically uninteresting as the doggies are, the humans fare even worse. The once-promising Lee Pace (“Pushing Daisies”) stars as Phil Winslow, Marmaduke’s owner and would-be pet food marketing executive. With his nuclear family in tow, Phil relocates from Kansas to sunny Orange County in California to work for Don Twombly (the formerly great William H. Macy), a loopy “green” pet food manufacturer who believes he gets his best ideas while walking barefoot in the park.

Throwaway subplots about Phil’s two kids’ moving pains act as breathers for the otherwise non-stop chase scenes and unfocused shenanigans and it concludes with a hip-hop canine line dance. The movie’s sole saving grace is that it’s over in less than 90 minutes, although it might feel twice that long to some more discerning, non-gas-loving audience members. (Fox)