The canine hero in Marley & Me bears scant resemblance to Rin Tin Tin, Lassie or Old Yeller. He is, in fact, "the world's worst dog".
Of course, he's just as lovable as the best ones. Released for Christmas Day in the United States, the Fox film, starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, is all emotional rush from cute puppy goofs to Marley's final (and seemingly endless) death scene. Yet seldom does a studio release feature so little drama – and not much comedy either other than when the dog clowns around.
Director David Frankel seems to specialise in movies dominated by a single, irresistible force. His blockbuster The Devil Wears Prada pretended to be about office politics and a bad boss but women flocked to it for one reason – the costumes.
Similarly, whatever Marley & Me wants to be about – the challenges of marriage or the balancing act between career and family – gets subsumed by pet tricks. Dog lovers won't care, and that basically is the audience for Marley & Me. From Fox's standpoint, it may be enough – the film has taken $166 million (Dh609m) since its December release.
The screenplay by two Hollywood heavyweights, Scott Frank and Don Roos, derives from journalist John Grogan's memoir about his family's amazingly untrained yellow Labrador. As he (Wilson) and wife Jenny (Aniston) pursue newspaper careers, their dog consumes sofas, drinks from toilets, overturns garbage, breaks everything and swallows a valuable necklace.
The dog is shown in one sequence failing obedience school despite instructor Kathleen Turner's stern demeanour. But the film never explains why the family failed to train Marley. More troubling from a storytelling viewpoint is the total absence of conflict. An hour into the film, Jenny has a bad day with screaming kids and a misbehaving dog so she flips out, yelling at John and momentarily banishing Marley.
Otherwise, John's editor (Alan Arkin) is pleased with his work as a columnist, John and Jenny love each other and the family prospers. Marley's erratic and explosive activities supply all the suspense, action and drama.