A menacing "Marley" has a meager tale

Dec. 29, 2008, midnight | By Fran Djoukeng | 13 years, 4 months ago

"Marley and Me" is a dull comedy draped over a dogged canine

The old saying goes that a dog is a man's best friend. That's hard to swallow when the furry, four-legged Labrador retriever has a ferocious temperament and a habitual routine of ruining anything in sight. Nevertheless, Marley is the canine companion in a simple story of the joys and challenges of life that teaches a time-honored message of unconditional love and family bonds.

After newlyweds John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and Jenny Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) move from cold Michigan to sunny-side Florida to start their married life together. Once settled into their new house, John becomes uneasy at the prospect of fatherhood and, with the advice of bachelor friend Sebastian Tunney (Eric Dane), decides to adopt an animal as an intermediate test-in. Bringing home what they thought was a seemingly innocent puppy, the couple soon experiences a rough life when the yellow Labrador turns into a rambunctious 100 pound live-in terror. As the years pass, the Grogans expand their family with three children, relocate to bigger homes in southern Florida and learn life lessons with a whole lot of help from a heavy-handed but heartfelt pal.

"Marley and Me" is a sweet story that reads right out of a novel of the same name, a best-selling memoir by journalist John Grogan that chronicles his growing family and their gallant but giving dog. So it's no surprise that Marley steals the spotlight in the film. But Marley steals much more when he can overturn a garage and transform a small, quaint home into a disaster area daily. His insatiable antics provide the seldom comic relief throughout a somewhat monotonous movie.

Atypical from the many light-hearted movies Wilson has starred in, he offers an unlikely character in John Grogan in a decent portrayal of a family man. Wilson's impression of a husband who has doubts on balancing a career and family is surprisingly believable. His deepening affection and relationship with Marley serves a great reminder of how a dog, even one that terrorizes the mailman and tears apart a house, can easily be a man's best friend. On the other hand, Aniston acts a one-dimensional character. Anyone else could have filled Aniston's role and feigned a more motherly picture.

Overall, the chemistry between Wilson and Aniston was bland and sparkly at best. The consistent kissing and their act as a couple translated as phony and weak with little intimacy. Throughout the film, it is Marley and Wilson that have the stronger relationship and quality instances of real bonding.

What moviegoers and dog-lovers will most appreciate is the incorrigible Marley and the hysterical volumes he evokes. It becomes quite apparent that after Marley gets kicked out of obedience school - humping the instructor was the last straw - there's no telling what the hyperactive hound will destroy. He shreds pillows and couches, devours dry wall, digests an expensive necklace, interrupts intimate moments and yet still manages to be an irreplaceable member of the Grogan family.

Absent in this film is a connected plot as the movie progresses into a timeline. There is no definitive climax, but rather a stale retelling of the Grogan's evolving life as newlyweds, then homeowners, then dog owners and so on. By the end, the lack of drama and plot twists make the film boring, offering neither further insight on family nor basic entertainment value.

Purely as a cute dog movie, "Marley and Me" does a modest job. However, the plot needed as much refining as Marley needed behavior training; the storyline was fairly shallow even with the traditional messages. Although acting performances and plot were not as keen, Marley still stands as a 'paw'-fect example of how a pet, like life, doesn't always go according to plan.

"Marley and Me" (120 minutes) is rated PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language. Now playing everywhere.

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