By Admin | December 26, 2008

They don’t make dog movies like they used to. To warrant the big screen treatment in the old days, man’s best friends had to do something pretty significant, like get killed by a cougar while protecting their owner (“Where the Red Fern Grows”), get rabies (“Old Yeller,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Cujo”), or dunk a basketball (“Air Bud”). Nowadays, it’s apparently enough for them simply to be loyal pets, which is kind of bullshit considering how much it costs for Science Diet these days.

Marley, the alleged real-life Labrador subject of John Grogan’s book “Marley & Me” is loyal, certainly, but also a monstrous pain in the a*s. He’s extraordinarily untrainable; tearing off the moment his leash is removed, destroying furniture, and chewing holes in that which is not usually chewed through. I say “alleged” because sitting through the unending series of doggy atrocities made me question how anyone could endure such a vile beast without putting it to sleep.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Newlywed reporters John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) have just moved to Miami. In an attempt to stave off his wife’s maternal instincts, John gets a dog…because this always works. Marley, of course, turns out to be a canine Satan, though the Grogans remain maddeningly good-natured about repeatedly re-upholstering their couches and shoveling mountains of dog s**t out of the backyard. And why not? John’s a lousy reporter, but his columns about Marley are increasingly popular, which goes a long way in explaining why he puts up with the slobbering crap machine as long as he does.

The arrival of the Grogan children raises some semi-serious questions, though. Dad might find it amusing to introduce morsel-sized babies into a household patrolled by a large carnivore that shows little discrimination in what it chooses to ingest, but it seems pretty irresponsible. This feeling is only exacerbated when we see Marley charging heedlessly through the house and knocking John and Jennifer’s toddler son over, a not uncommon occurrence, we’re told. I don’t care how great your writing gig is, when an animal is endangering your family, inadvertently or not, you either turn the dog into an outdoor pet or you “take a walk” with him and your 20-gauge.

They don’t, of course, and of course everything eventually turns out hunky-dory (not many feel-good bestsellers are written about child-murdering pets, after all). None of this changes the fact that “Marley & Me” is about as riveting as lacing a new pair of shoes. The producers get on thing right, though, and that’s in the movie’s casting. Not many could do justice to the vanilla story presented by Grogan and screenwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos, but Wilson and Aniston – two of the blandest, most uninteresting thespians working today – are just the ones to pull it off. I understand dog lovers are a forgiving lot, but “Marley & Me” is enough to make one sympathize with that cougar from “Where the Red Fern Grows.”

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