The soul of montage: a Great Dane’s face on the screen, a familiar human voice emitting from the surround speakers, and all at once the sequence of unshakable conclusions: thought—interiority—self. The only CGI that matters is the animation of what might easily already be filmed from nature. Only then does it recapitulate the disappointment one feels, looking around at everything: But must this existence be so, so, so existy all the time?
By happy chance, someone’s dumb enough to call us friend. Marmaduke! Two hundred pounds of irrepressible chaos, the black, wet muzzle of joy. In a nutshell, the owner/dad has work-life issues, and his schlepping of wife and kids to Orange County looks all wet when his first big P.R. idea—dog surfing competition, should be foolproof—is undone by you-know-who so that the Petco execs he’s wooing wind up under a punchbowl. The climax (M. has run away, he tried to fit in with the pedigrees and it all went wrong) involves a rescue from the L.A. sewers—a nice, subtle Chinatown nod. Does this film, too, under the mask of its hundred brittle formulations, also despair of justice human, canine, or divine? Must Evil really be a dad?
I know, I’m getting to him—Owen Wilson. But it’s hard to face or even imagine, the studio, it’s almost time for a coffee break, he’s looping some lines the two ex-playwrights sequestered in the hall just punched up, the engineer calls for one more take, he gets it, then the boyish star and failed suicide slips off the cans and lays them gently on their station, zips up his hoodie and goes out shading his face from the sun-stunned L.A. afternoon. What could have brought him so close to oblivion, and is he really healed? Would it help him to see the four delighted little girls in this theater, dancing along to the final all-pooch macarena right down by the screen? Maybe Sam Elliott’s coming in that day, and takes him by the shoulder, and in that drawl a Texan would appreciate, “Steady, kid. You’re in your 40s now, right? You just got through the hardest part.”