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Dogs have their day in Marley & Me

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Even given my status as a big dog lover (and whether you take that to mean a big lover of dogs or a lover of big dogs, either interpretation works), the notion of spending two hours watching puppies frolic during the course of Marley & Me seemed like a pretty one-note way to spend a matinee. Welcome, then, to one of the season's most pleasant surprises, as this family film proves to be far more thematically rich than its simplistic trailer reveals.

Major-league screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report, Get Shorty) and middle-league screenwriter Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex) adapt John Grogan's fact-based novel about his family's pet, a Labrador retriever named Marley. Both journalists, John (Owen Wilson) and wife Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) agree that Marley is "the world's worst dog," given his penchant for always getting into trouble. But thankfully, the movie doesn't devolve into a series of comic scenes revolving around leg humpings and yard droppings. Instead, as John and Jennifer add some children to the equation, it becomes a clear-eyed look at the difficulties in raising a family, all the more so when there's a lumbering beast driving everyone mad. Ultimately, though, the film makes the point that every dog owner -- indeed, every pet owner -- long ago took as gospel: A family doesn't begin and end with merely its two-legged members.

Alternately sweet, sad and sentimental, Marley & Me represents cinema as dog's best friend.

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