“Being in a bathtub with Jackie Chan, I don’t know, it has a way of bonding you I’ll tell you that.”
– Owen Wilson
There’s an aspect of my new job that I quite like. A couple of afternoons each week I get to watch movies. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen drab TV movies on Channel 5 like ‘Black Widow’ starring Elizabeth Berkley and ‘Murder 101: The Locked Room Mystery’ starring Dick Van Dyke, his son and his grandson. But the two films I’d like to talk about star Owen Wilson, the charming wonky nosed American everyman.
Owen Wilson is lovable, laidback and dare I say lazy actor. His easy going effortless persona allows him to coast through films. I think this is a gift and a curse. He gets work, he can serve up the same old shtick, but he never goes out of second gear. I suppose thus far this has prevented him from ever reaching a level of award winning acting greatness. Though this may pan out to be a piece that criticizes Wilson, it has to be said that I have enjoyed several film’s that he’s been in such as ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and ‘Wedding Crashers’.
When Robin Williams tragically died, a few glowing tributes highlighted his voice work in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’. It is a performance that has obviously taken even greater significance, and given the amount of animated and live action films featuring CGI characters that are consistently churned out, it should be highlighted for actors as how to do the perfect voice-over. Owen Wilson provides the voice for the title character in ‘Marmaduke’, the live action story of a troublesome lanky Great Dane who moves to California. He performs like he’s still waiting for his morning coffee. There’s no spirit or joy in his voice.
Now usually I love a good dog movie, be it ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘Lassie’, ‘All Dogs Go to Heaven’ or ‘Scooby-Doo’, but ‘Marmaduke’ stinks, and it’s largely due to Wilson, and a shitty script. Yes, it’s a kid’s film, so you can put away the critical scalpel to an extent, but you wouldn’t even want your children to sit through this.
It’s his voice. I don’t know perhaps his boyish tussled blonde locks, and forgivable smirk usually distracts me from paying much attention to Wilson’s drawl. Voice alone, Wilson is bland, and doesn’t convince as a clumsy Great Dane. I suppose Wilson could’ve played the Father of the Winslow family who own Marmaduke, but that role is occupied by the forgettable Lee Pace.
As Marmaduke Wilson narrates the film, and dominates the dialogue. The trouble with this is that it isn’t a film solely about the animals, as it also tries to tie in the Winslow family’s struggle to adapt to life in California. I suppose this is an attempt to differentiate itself from a film like ‘Marley & Me’, which also starred Owen Wilson. A better balance might’ve been for ‘Marmaduke’ to be a bit like a modern version of ‘Beethoven’.
‘Marmaduke’ was part of an Owen Wilson double bill on Film Four. The second film was ‘Drillbit Taylor’, directed by Steven Brill, whose work includes the unholy trio of ‘Mr Deeds’, ‘Without a Paddle’ and ‘Movie 43’. It was bound to be awful wasn’t it? But then you delve further with who else was involved – the film was produced by Judd Apatow, co-written by Seth Rogan and the late great John Hughes came up with the original concept for the film. Hang on a minute, why wasn’t this film a success?
Arguably the fault lies again with Wilson and his performance as the most ridiculous representation of a homeless man in film history. It’s almost offensive. Wilson makes homelessness look easy, he showers on the beach, gets a steady amount of cash from drivers stuck in morning rush hour traffic and drifts by effortlessly. Drillbit is hired by a couple of high school kids who are being bullied to be their bodyguard; somehow he ends up posing as a substitute teacher. Nobody raises an eyebrow. The film doesn’t veer much from the high school nerd gains revenge over bully trope.
Over the course of those three hours, the combined effect of sitting through ‘Marmaduke’ and ‘Drillbit Taylor’, I’ve grown to despise Owen Wilson’s voice. I can hear it now. He’s laughing, a cool guffaw. He knows it doesn’t matter what I think.