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Marmaduke moves to California with his ?fam?: Think The O.C., but for canines.

Joseph Ledere/AP/Joseph Ledere/AP

2 out of 4 stars



Directed by Tom Dey

Written by Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio

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Starring Owen Wilson and George Lopez

Classification: G

The last time Owen Wilson kept company with canines, he was the Me in Marley & Me, playing second banana to a Golden Lab. Now he's the top dog in Marmaduke, lending his voice to a Great Dane. On the basis of such recent evidence, some might suggest that it's clear where his career is going. But I wouldn't be so hasty. Since the box-office has never met a pooch it didn't love, this too is clear: Owen is barking all the way to the bank.

Yes, this is another opus to take that small, well-trodden step from the funny pages to the big screen. But we're in live-action territory here, meaning that real people actors compete for camera time with real dog actors. In this case, both species talk, surely a tribute to how far cinema has progressed since the silent era. Being a gangly teenager, oversized and under-co-ordinated, Marmaduke talks like the klutzy outsider in a John Hughes flick. Happily, that's no coincidence. Turns out his local park is a "high school for dogs," marked by the usual social strata - the jocks chasing frisbees, the pedigrees acting cool, the sniffing hounds getting high and the lowly mutts getting shunned.

Add it up and we got ourselves a script, not to mention a love triangle when Marmaduke falls hard for Jezebel the beautiful collie even as Mazie the half-breed tumbles for him. Of course, like any teen, he has lessons to learn and to impart. Seems that aspiring to join the in-crowd, forgetting who your are and growing too big for your paws, well, that's a bad thing. In bright contrast, sharing the off-leash area equally with tolerance shown to all, elevating a hind-leg only in the service of nature, and generally behaving in the spirit of doggie democracy, that's a pretty good thing. Of such moral niceties, Great Danes, and great movies, are made.

Luckily, when not lecturing on ethics, our California kids know how to party hearty: Dissatisfied with mere mastery of the Queen's English, and with only a teensy bit of help from the special-effects department, these pooches can surf, they can lounge poolside while getting really wasted, they can trash a whole house when the folks are away, and they sure can cut a rug. Oh, they can dance too. And lest anyone think that canines have the market cornered on higher learning, there's a smart kitty too. Carlos is a Russian Blue cat who speaks with a Mexican accent, a testament either to the feline's more evolved linguistic skills or to the fact that he's voiced by George Lopez. I'll leave you to choose.

Meanwhile, down on the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder, Marmaduke has a pet family named Winslow. Daddy Winslow is dimly ambitious, Mommy Winslow is nicely ineffectual, Daughter Winslow is boy crazy. Occasionally, Marmaduke takes them for a walk. Speaking of the descent of man, William H. Macy makes an appearance as someone-or-other - if memory serves, didn't he used to be an actor?

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Hey, it's all good clean fun. How much fun? Well, like every big-hearted owner, Marmaduke shares the bed with his pets. There, in the opening scene and again at the end, he offends their noses, and tickles our fancy, by breaking wind. Yep, top dog, king of the tycoons, the James Cameron of the box-office, the wily Duke has framed his film in fart jokes.

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