Marmaduke (PG)

Marmaduke is livin’ large in Orange County, California, with his owner Phil Winslow (Lee Pace).

Marmaduke, the comic strip about life with a 200-pound canine, earns a dull but harmless big-screen comedy aimed at the youngest moviegoers.

Got kids? Be thankful this isn’t in pricy 3-D. And be thrilled that unlike Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Marmaduke won’t inspire anyone to pick up a Great Dane at the pet store on the way home.

Owen Wilson, who narrates and chats up his fellow members of the Housepet Kingdom thanks to digital assistance, gives the first 15 minutes of this movie a light touch, detailing his life with his owner, “Dr. No” he calls him (Lee Pace, not funny), Dr. No’s wife (Judy Greer, given nothing funny to do) and “the other two-leggers,” a boy he calls a “padawan,” a teen sister and a toddler.

Then, in a stunning development, this Kansas family moves to Southern California, land of sun, surfing and status-conscious dog parks. Poor Marmaduke has to find “a new leash on life.”

“It’s like high school, for dogs,” explains Mazie (Emma Stone), the streetwise Queensland Heeler. The dog-park cliques include airhead blondes (Afghan hounds), bullied small fry (dachshunds, Chinese Crested) and mutts.

The pedigreed top dogs are led by the bully Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland), a Rottweiler-ish beast who surfs and keeps his collie girlfriend, Jezebel (Fergie the singer, not the bribe-soliciting ex-royal), under his paw.

Marmaduke has to establish his place in the pack, learn to surf, help “Dr. No” get in good with his boss (William H. Macy) and figure out who his real friends are.

Even by talking-critter comedy standards, Marmaduke lacks mirth and imagination. Casting Wilson, fresh off Marley & Me (he wasn’t the dog in that one) and George Lopez (playing his pal, the house cat) of Beverly Hills Chihuahua is no stretch. A dogs-trash-the-house scene is standard stuff, and the SoCal dog surfing setting is just Hollywood geographical myopia.

Director Tom Failure to Launch Dey recycles the “pay attention to your kids the way your dog does” message from The Shaggy Dog. But then, bad jokes (“Cow-a-bark-a”) are what pass for screenwriting here.

Cast: Lee Pace, William H. Macy, Judy Greer and the voices of Owen Wilson, Emma Stone, George Lopez.

Director: Tom Dey.

Screenwriters: Tim Rasmussen, Vince Di Meglio. From the comic by Brad Anderson and Phil Leeming.

Producers: John Davis, Tom Dey.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 87 minutes. Some rude humor, language.


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