Unnecessary Reviews: Marmaduke

Unnecessary Reviews is a column where things are reviewed in a manner that is unnecessary.

They say you can’t keep a good dog down.

Just like the films Anaconda, Saw III and Vampire in Brooklyn that came before it, Marmaduke has breathed new life into the horror genre.

The movie opens in rural Kansas where we meet the main character, Phil, travelling salesman and peddler of a special brand of organic dog food. When Phil learns that his job is transferring him to California, he begins to notice strange visions of animals that follow his every move.
As Phil becomes more and more involved in the dog food business his mind starts plotting against him and his visions only become more vivid. In time Phil is forced to confront the question of whether the talking Great Dane and the sassy cat named Carlos are real or merely symptoms of his rapidly declining mental state.

Before long Carlos and the Great Dane, the titular Marmaduke, are accompanied by an entire cast of creepy crawly critters: Jezebel, Boscoe, Thunder, Lightning, Mazie, Giuseppe and, of course, Raisin.

The villain of the film, Marmaduke, is masterfully employed as the ever-present foil to Phil’s enduring happiness. He lurks just beyond every shadow, always reminding the protagonist of his fragile mortality. Although Phil and the others must always be weary of the other animals, the Great Dane undoubtedly steals the show.

His pursuit is unyielding, always waiting in the wings like a haunting refrain. The audience is forced to sympathize with Phil and follow him in his cerebral journey, driven to the edge of madness by the always-present, beating soundtrack:

“Mar-ma-duke, Mar-ma-duke, Mar-ma-duke.”

Although this film will surely earn its rank among the best horror films of our generation, there are some flaws to be found in director Tom Dey’s first foray into the genre.

While the character arch within the movie is nothing short of
spellbinding, the narrative devices leave much to be desired. When the conflict between Phil and Marmaduke reaches its climax, for example, many of the films more pesky plotlines are wrapped up by use of an explanation that somehow involves several characters becoming YouTube celebrities. This element in particular seems overly simplistic,
even juvenile, especially for a film targeted at a mature audience.

For fear of spoiling an otherwise sterling movie, suffice it to say that Marmaduke relies on a similar deus ex machina device as other such films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Viewers of Marmaduke may also be interested to note that while this film did not receive an R rating, it should still be kept from most children under the age of 14. There is a fair amount of implied violence in Marmaduke, with many of the more graphic scenes occurring just off camera.

There are, too, both scenes at a beach (males and females in bathing suits) and scenes in which the dog characters take hallucinatory drugs for recreational purposes.

Possibly the biggest surprise of Marmaduke comes from the overall quality of voice acting courtesy of George Lopez, Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson and Owen Wilson. As Marmaduke, Wilson absolutely delights, committing himself so completely to the odd idiosyncrasies and the unnerving ticks that underscore the character’s oh-so-dangerous persona.

In the end, this film portrays a number of blemishes, even a few frayed edges, but it is an accomplishment that equals so much more than the sum of its parts. Marmaduke is unrelenting, suspenseful and frightening in all the right ways.