Marmaduke (2022)

When I started watching Marmaduke, I thought it was one of those Ratatoing-type cheap knockoffs. You know, the kind shoveled out to confuse parents. To be fair, I’m still not convinced it’s NOT one of those. It was directed by someone named Mark Dippé. According to Wikipedia, here is his filmography:

You can’t convince me a single one of these is a real movie

Apparently the animation studio that Dippé runs goes by “StoryBerry,” and here is what their web page looks like

Definitely not a money laundering scheme.

Anyways, there are enough real credits to the production to lend it some face-value legitimacy, even if that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. This was released by Netflix to an unreported budget, but I suspect they shook out the loose change between the cushions in the break room. Then there’s the voice cast, which includes real people that you have heard of. Most notably, JK Simmons plays the villain dog named Zeus; and Pete Davidson, in one of cinema’s all-time terrible vocal performances, voices Marmaduke himself. Davidson reads his lines as if he had about an hour between SNL rehearsals and hadn’t seen the script prior to recording.

The movie opens with Marmaduke, the Great Dane star of the long-running, deeply unfunny single-panel comic strip, in trouble with his family when one of his misadventures goes viral online. (“It has a million views!” mutters one of the family’s annoying children.) A championship-winning dog trainer, looking for his next challenge, decides to recruit Marmaduke to win a dog contest that apparently everyone in the world cares about like it’s the presidential election.

During the contest, Marmaduke meets various competing dogs. In addition to Zeus, who vaguely resembles a canine Fabio, there is a sexy French dog, a rapping kung fu dog, a fat dog, a taco-loving Chihuahua, a little fluffy dog, etc. None of the dogs are appealing to look at, and at least half of them are racist caricatures.

The film is simultaneously a talking animal comedy and a sports flick, as Marmaduke tries to win the contest and cash prize. The story is more-or-less functional, in that it has three acts and scenes with clear beginnings and endings, which is more than can be said for some stinkers from 2022, but that’s still giving the movie too much credit. Every scene is the narrative equivalent of one of those AI portrait-generating web sites that mathematically averages 10,000 faces and spits out a facsimile, where it simultaneously has a recognizable shape but also feels alien and inaccessible. The basic mechanics of the scenes make sense, but what any of the characters care about and why is never clear. None of the characters have identifiable personalities except Marmaduke, who has exactly one trait, which is liking food.

The animation in Marmaduke is ugly as sin. Most human character designs have exaggerated toothpick legs with bulbous torsoes, ugly and “stylized” if the notion of “style” were no consideration in that word. The mom looks like a parody of the Pixar “dumptruck ass” meme. Everything genuinely resembles something from a video game or a YouTube channel. It’s all solid colors, flat lighting, simple shapes, and mechanical character rigging.

There is one mildly interesting moment of animation: Marmaduke eats a bunch of junk food before one of the contests. His body distends, inflating and deflating and contorting into knotted shapes, as he tries to keep his flatulence inside. Yep: the one time the film displays any creativity or ambition, it’s a goddamn fart joke.

The movie has absolutely zero control of its tone. It pivots from grating, repetitive comic exertion to the most maudlin, pandering shit you’ve ever seen. It even does a fake-out death of its protagonist at the end, pretending for a minute that this is some Old Yeller-esque tragedy. (Had the movie actually killed Marmaduke, I would have bumped the film up at least one rating point.)

Marmaduke should have been at least 500% more insane and weird if it wanted to be fun. I can tolerate some technical and writing badness if you at least have some audacity about it. There are a couple moments where the film is inexplicably horny, like when the sexy French dog does a burlesque dance during the talent show. These moments are at least something, a whiff of unhinged insanity, but never anything that lasts more than a minute or two at a time. For the large majority of its duration, Marmaduke is the bland and noisy kind of incompetence that makes 95 minutes feel an hour longer than that.

Is It Good?

Very Not Good (1/8)

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