IIn the greener days of the internet, a proto-meme image bouncing around forums and message boards depicted a crudely computer-animated Marmaduke sitting in an Italian restaurant, being yelled at by a bearded man, “SIGNOR MARMADUKE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN LUIGI’S PIZZA WHEN YOU’RE A DOG AND NO PEOPLE?” This man, presumably Luigi, then notices that something in Marmaduke’s red, unforgiving eyes has turned both of his hands into heads. of Santa Claus, who laugh in Japanese and act like rocket boosters propelling him through space.
My working theory is that the team responsible for Netflix’s new Marmaduke feature vehicle had no knowledge of the messy but lovable comic of the nearly 60-year-old Great Dane, and instead took this hallucinatory webcomic as source material. most likely thrown by a madman in 20 minutes. In the carelessness of its sloppy construction, the off-putting platitude of its style, its brazen resistance to the elementary foundations of logic, and its hostility to conventional humor that borders on the avant-garde, the new film (a term liberally applied to this random sequence of moving images) has far more in common with the restless, ugly delirium of online obscurities than the amusing pages of the newspaper. Created without fanfare and tucked away in the dustiest recesses of Big Red N’s content library, it’s now where it belongs, a digital oddity so minor and off-brand it could barely be said to exist.
Which would be a real boon for star Pete Davidson, obviously continuing his Adam Sandler-esque career path by making the kind of mind-crushing children’s film that gave The Sandman enough disgust to fuel Funny People. Lending his nasal Staten Island brogue to our canine pal, every line SNL lothario reads sounds sarcastic, as if he wants discerning viewers to understand that he took this job as a creepy quote. Not since Eric Roberts growled in A Talking Cat!?! Has the sordid texture of a vocal performance been so violently at odds with the belly-scratching creature that speaks the words. And yet, this dissonance fits in counterintuitively with the rest of the film, which shares a certain lack of mastery of even the most rudimentary cinematic vocabulary. And, by the way, sometimes the vocabulary of the English language.
Forget cohesive tone – before too long it starts to seem like a lot to ask of a script that blurs the simple arrangement of plot points in a linear sequence. Action is guided less by causality than by deep, primal drives for which our civilization has no name, animal brain impulses pushing an unusually human animal from one hijink to the next. Marmaduke goes on a birthday party for the first time on the pork chop trail and destroys an above-ground swimming pool, losing water from a hurricane that drowns the entire neighborhood. As well as establishing Marmaduke as a huge source of shame for his family – “No one at school wants to be my friend because my dog is a loser!” cries the cruelest child in history – as well as an overnight viral celebrity, it attracts the attention of haughty trainer Guy Hilton (voiced by Brian Hull), convinced that turning this four-legged disaster into a champion dog show will be the crowning achievement of his career. His work is cut out for him; during the qualifying round, Marmaduke farts so hard that a significant number of spectators vomit and die.
Fortunately, this does not prevent him from accessing the final organized in the form of a doggy Olympiad, each nation in the world designating a canine representative. Mexico, for example, receives a hyperactive Chihuahua with a Speedy Gonzalez accent whose obedience is tested by offering him a taco that he must refrain from wolfing down. The other acts aren’t quite as fiercely racist, though they all find their own way of being equally misguided: the flirtatious routine of a French poodle invites us to have impure thoughts about a cartoon dog, and an appetizer – set a martial arts interlude with competing Chinese shoe horns as a reminder that Hong Kong-based animation company One Cool Group had a hand in this quagmire.
The studio first credited with sex adventure Naked Ambition 2 forms an axis of incompetence with co-directors Youngki Lee (producer of direct-to-video ephemera, occupying the director’s chair for the first time), Mark AZ Dippé (credited with 1997’s Spawn and 2017’s equally infernal Michael Jackson’s Halloween) and Phil Nibbelink (of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West). With nearly a century of man-years in business between them, they nevertheless achieve a level of aesthetic amateurism rarely seen in mass-market movies, more closely associated with DVD menu screens, computer games intended to teach kids the basics of phonics, or, yes, MS Paint abominations like the unauthorized scene at Luigi’s pizzeria.
The cumulative effect of using technology last seen in 2003 to bring dialogue to life with the stilted functionality of an early foray into fan fiction is that none of it feels real, or at least not real enough to merit an opinion like this. But that’s the paradox of Netflix, a studio that hasn’t let growth toward industry legitimacy stop them from ejecting the bush league crapola into the water supply: Cinema is what ‘they say it is, with no distinction between half-baked proof-of-concept demos and genuine articles. Everything gets tossed on the pile with the others, and we move on.