Even dog lovers may want to take "Marley & Me" to the pound. Based on the best-selling book by John Grogan, which chronicled his life with a large, lovable and deeply neurotic dog, "Marley & Me" proves the obvious: Not every book has a movie lurking in it.
Spoiler alert: Dogs don't live forever, and if you judge only by the trailers (which include just about all of the film's best comic bits), you may mistakenly think that this movie is appropriate for young children. By the time John and Jennifer and their three kids settle into a beautiful house near Philadelphia, Marley is an old dog. When the bell finally tolls for poor Marley, director David Frankel spares no manipulation to create a death scene worthy of Dickens.
Grogan's column about Marley's death, published in 2004, is sentimental, direct and restrained, and was essentially an apology for having made the dog an object of fun in so many previous columns. Not so the speech that Owen Wilson, as Grogan, delivers in the film, which elevates Marley to almost celestial status.
There are three fine performances lost in this otherwise middling film. Alan Arkin makes a wonderfully gruff newspaper editor who does just about as much barking as Marley. Jennifer Aniston makes the most of the rather slender figure of Jennifer Grogan, creating a believably human picture of a career woman who gives it up for the kids. And then there's the dog that plays Marley. If he wasn't drugged into a glassy-eyed state for the death scene, then his final weary stare into the great hunting grounds beyond can be ranked as a masterful moment in the annals of canine thespians. If you make it to this point in the film, give yourself a biscuit.
-- Philip Kennicott (Dec. 25, 2008)
Contains thematic material, suggestive content and language.