I know that Marmaduke is a movie that was made by actual human beings, but I'll be damned if I could prove it. Like a dog that's been rolling around in garbage, it comes to audiences with all sorts of random pop culture detritus stuck in its fur, leaving it to us to pick through the Mean Girls references and The O.C. jokes to figure out what, exactly, this movie is trying to tell us. Having sat through it so you and your kids won't have to, I really couldn't say.
Though it's based on a long-running comic strip aimed toward children and easily amused adults, Marmaduke makes the mystifying choice of turning its central character into a teenage dog, adopting a plot directly from John Hughes and depicting dog world as idealized Hollywood high school. The story starts when Marmaduke's family (Lee Pace and Judy Greer as the adults, Caroline Sunshine and Finley Jacobsen as the mostly anonymous kids) uproots from Kansas to Los Angeles so that Dad can take a lucrative job at an organic dog food company. At the dog park equivalent of Beverly Hills-- grassy knolls, flower beds, even a bubbling spring-- Marmaduke quickly befriends a band of outcasts and learns the rules of the park, in a sequence very literally ripped out of Mean Girls.
There's a social hierarchy, you see, and Marmaduke can't just chat up cute collie Jezebel (Fergie), since she's the gal for Bosco (Kiefer Sutherland), a rottweiler with a temper and a stranglehold on the whole park. Lured by a pretty girl and the promise of power, Marmaduke quickly ditches his friends to become the top dog after-- I am not joking-- beating Bosco in a dog surfing contest. Sure, the Great Dane riding ripcurls is a bizarre and horrifying special effect not possible in any pre-CGI era, but everything else is basically a Saved By the Bell episode performed by talking animals. I'm pretty sure someone's already done it on YouTube, actually.
The humans take a backseat to the top dog drama, popping up enough for you to realize that, in any normal situation, a comedy starring Pace, Greer and William H. Macy (as the meanie dog food company owner) would be a genuine treat. Pace at least gets to practice a series of exasperated "Marmaduke!" shouts and executes some impressive pratfalls, but Greer, as is becoming sadly par for the course, is utterly wasted. It's a movie that allows George Lopez as a talking cat to upstage the "Say goodbye to these!" girl from Arrested Development, and that should really be all you need to know.
Marmaduke is a bad movie, but at least its not a predictable one. The strange horrors begin the moment you realize the entire movie will consist of actual animals with moving mouths CGIed on to their faces, and that recognizable celebrities-- Emma Stone, Sam Elliott, Steve Coogan, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and a Wayans or two show up as well-- will be voicing the animals, who can also break dance or do a striptease when the moment calls for it. There are so many questions to ask that screenwriters Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio were clearly too busy digging up dated pop culture references to answer. If the animals' mouths can move, why don't the humans notice? How do the dogs balance on the surfboards? When Marmaduke throws a crazy party for the other dogs while the family is out of town, how was he able to buy Cheetos and put them in bowls? Who exactly is supposed to laugh at the multiple "Who Let The Dogs Out" references? Who reads the Marmaduke comic strip anyway?
You should ask yourself these questions if you somehow wind up seeing this movie, since it's really the only way to entertain yourself during 87 minutes that feel much, much longer. Really the only people who ought to see Marmaduke are very young children and very chemically altered adults, and since neither of those groups are all that capable of buying movie tickets, any amount of money this movie makes will be too much.