Marmaduke, Lee Pace

Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox

Review in a Hurry: You can see the ending a mile away: Big dog creates chaos and annoys owner, but lovably teaches everyone about friendship and acceptance. A lame, worn-out story wrapped in a pelt of fluffy dog fur.

The Bigger Picture: Marmaduke is a freakishly large Great Dane who doesn't seem to fit in. When his family moves from Kansas to California (the only middle-class Midwestern family to ever graduate to a bigger house with a move out west), he discovers a new set of friends and challenges. The local dog park is full of high school-like cliques, which is a cute conceit, but tired old tropes about family, tolerance and work-life balance drown a unique premise with utter conventionality. Dad is too obsessed with his job (and can you blame him, with that huge house to pay for?), and his wife and kids suffer for it. It's up to Marmaduke, by golly, to show him the light and bring this family back together! Yawn.

It's even hard to get excited about the special effects. Babe set the bar way high for talking-animal movies, and though the CGI here is seamless, the dogs seem wooden and vacant. Marmaduke's face has a limited spectrum of expression; his eyes are robotic, totally disconnected from that chatty mouth. The technical wizardry is there, but the emotional component is nowhere to be seen.

From the looks of it, most of the movie's budget was spent on the effects, too, because corners were cut elsewhere—though did it really save money to build a backyard set, Astroturf and all? Bad lighting, skimpy crowd scenes and that fake grass make a viewer feel cheated. Of course, if the plot didn't feel secondhand, all the phony foliage in the world would be forgiven.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Owen Wilson is the perfect actor to voice the 'Duke. He's endearing and goofy, and almost single-handedly saves the movie. George Lopez, Sam Elliot and a handful of other talented actors round out the CGI cast; pros Judy Greer and Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies' likeable lead) are excellent as Marmaduke's owners.

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