Marmaduke Review

The miracle of CGI has created a monster, an unwelcome tidal wave of talking-animal comedies. Now, with the novelty of watching lips move on animals wearing dangerously thin, Owen Wilson lends his likeable voice to a Great Dane called Marmaduke. In a film based on the inexplicably long running and rarely amusing newspaper cartoon.

It’s a real challenge to stretch a one joke comic strip into a feature length story. So the film predictably relies on all the familiar elements of a standard family comedy. A success-hungry father drags his reluctant family and troublesome pet dog to a new life in California, where his demanding boss keeps him too busy to notice his unhappy children. Meanwhile, our canine hero has to deal with doggy social cliques, love interests and a pedigree bully in a new park.

The most magical films are those which have the power to enchant children and adults in equal measure. Unfortunately, Marmaduke panders aimlessly to both audiences and rarely satisfies either. A few misplaced pop culture references won’t keep mum and dad interested and young kids will likely grow grouchy at the surprising lack of silliness. It’s impossible to avoid unflattering comparisons with the wealth of wonders that Disney and Pixar have gifted to the world.

The most confusing thing about Marmaduke is that the film seems frequently targeted at teenagers, the one demographic guaranteed to avoid watching it at all costs. Marmaduke’s journey of self-discovery, as he loses sight of his real friends in an effort to fit in with the popular dogs, is borrowed heavily from classic teen movie Mean Girls. Different doggy breeds are an easy analogy for high school social clichés but it’s not that relevant to an audience of toddlers and grownups.

It’s surprising how much vocal talent has been lured into this film. Kiefer Sutherland, Emma Stone, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Sam Elliot all do their very best with mostly recycled material. But even Owen Wilson’s resilient charms can’t disguise a lack of genuine wit in Marmaduke’s constant narration. The film’s real problem is that the essence of almost every joke is the same. It’s all supposed to be funny because the characters act like people but really they’re dogs.

Twenty years ago a genuine talking dog would have been a must see attraction, but sadly they don’t impress anyone in a world where meerkats sell us insurance on TV. Pigs, Gerbils, Chipmunks and Chihuahuas… they’ve all talked and shamefully we’ve listened. But it’s not enough anymore, unless they have something new to say and Marmaduke doesn’t.

If you’re looking for a film that allows you to combine your mutual love of dogs and Owen Wilson you’re better off sticking with your Marley and Me DVD.


Due Date Review

In Due Date, a highly strung father-to-be Peter (Robert Downey Jr) is forced to hitch a ride with an oddball aspiring actor Ethan (Zack Galifianakis) on a disastrous cross country road trip, in order to make it to the birth of his child on time.

The astounding global success of The Hangover has burdened director Todd Phillips with a huge weight of expectation. People simply expect to be laughing long, hard and often at his films. Due Date offers some good quality laughs, but not as frequently as some may have hoped. It’s a little darker and more sullen in tone than the zany silliness of The Hangover.

Much of the success of The Hangover has been attributed to the bearded insanity of funnyman Zack Galifianakis and Due Date also relies heavily upon his nuanced awkwardness for laughs. The key to good ‘buddy movies’ is that not only do we have to feel sorry for the normal guy stuck with some irritating loser, we also have to feel sorry for the loser. It’s a fine art to be obnoxious and sympathetic at the same time but Zack Galifianakis manages it fairly well. He has the sort of pathetic vulnerability that makes it impossible to loath his moronic oafishness.

In sharp contrast, Robert Downey Jr has emerged from the shadow of a bad boy reputation to establish himself as one of Hollywood’s most charismatic and effortlessly cool leading men. Sublime star turns in Iron Man, Tropic Thunder and Sherlock Holmes have helped him become the household name he has always deserved to be.

It’s an oversimplification to say that Peter (Downey Jr) simply plays the straight man to Galifianakis acting weird. There’s a furious and slightly unhinged quality to Peter. He’s essentially a good guy, but he’s not above punching a child or rage induced animal cruelty. A less likeable actor could have easily left the character feeling like a hysterical bully.

Due Date’s plot and characters draws obvious comparisons with classic road movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, but its grungy gross-out humour doesn’t have quite the same warmth to it. It’s certainly interesting watching our mismatched duo lurch their way through a series of escalating fiascos but it’s not always joyous.

If you’re a fan of The Hangover, Due Date might just offer you more than the disappointing repetition of The Hangover Part 2. If you don’t quite get the Hangover hype then you really won’t get this either.

The Runways Review

Twilight stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning take a raunchy vacation from angst ridden vampires by starring in coming-of-age rock biopic The Runaways. Unfortunately the film isn’t nearly as thrilling or fun as a guilty pleasure should be. Like a disappointing rockstar, the film pouts and postures, but fails to entertain. It’s all just a little too self-assured in its own allure.

The Runaways is loosely based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s autobiographical account of life in the 1970’s all-girl rock band. After just a couple of years of successful notoriety they’re best remembered now for a handful of songs and the subsequent solo success of guitarist Joan Jett. What’s most remarkable about their story is how unremarkable it is. It’s the generic story of every promising band that ever fell apart.

Michael Shannon plays the band’s loathsome manager Kim Fowley, who plucks the girls from obscurity to craft them into stars. It’s a painful rock and roll cliché to watch a sleazy manager exploit naive young wannabes. He directs a never ending stream of abusive motivation at the girls, but it’s a little too vile and nasty to be enjoyably comedic. Maybe that ugliness is intentional and an accurate reflection of the true nature of rock and roll, but it’s not fun to watch.

Casting former child starlet Dakota Fanning as the increasingly debauched and damaged Cherie will draw mixed reactions. There’s a sharp contrast between her previously innocent image and her character’s hedonistic self-destruction. It’s an awkward juxtaposition and can be distracting for an audience. It doesn’t help that Cherie is also an increasingly unlikable character, making it hard to sympathise during her predictable downward spiral.

Opinion is divided on whether Kristen Stewart’s stalwart refusal to smile on camera constitutes talented performance or just unappealing glumness. Armed with a mullet and a leather jacket she does an impressive impersonation of Joan Jett. Unfortunately a shallow script doesn’t allow her to prove she’s capable of more than simply sullenness. Likewise the other band members and supporting characters barely have any presence or personality.

There are a lot of great films examining the infamous pleasures and perils of rock and roll. Unfortunately The Runaways is neither satirical nor effectively poignant. The film seems to try and revel in rebelliousness and lament lost innocence at the same time. It’s a confusing contradiction. Unless you have an existing fondness for the band or the cast of Twilight, The Runaways probably won’t be that captivating.