Mark Wahlberg’s dog movie has no bite

It’s hard to know what, exactly, the creative drive is about King Arthur. One would think it’s obvious, given how the marketing has put Arthur the dog front and center. The film is named after the dog. The memoir on which the film is based is about a transformative encounter with this dog. It seems clear that this should be a story about a dog! So it’s surprising to realize that the dog is almost an afterthought. Instead, it’s another star vehicle for Mark Wahlberg to unconvincingly sell himself as a likable human being.

Wahlberg stars as wet adventure racer Michael Light (based on memoirist Mikael Lindnord), a man so obsessed with winning his races that he ignores the needs and advice of his teammates, sabotaging his chances of them to secure a place at the top of the podium. Desperate for one last shot at victory, he assembles a team to attempt one last race across the Dominican Republic, where they’ll have to hike, bike, climb, zipline and kayak their way to victory.

This dream team consists only of stock characters, each of whom has a unique character trait to contribute to the group dynamic. Simu Liu is an Instagram-obsessed influencer who (rightly) understands that sponsors don’t just spend money on runners appearing as little more than tracking dots on a map. Nathalie Emmanuel is running alone to appease her terminally ill legend of a father, a character forgotten by the time it climaxes. Ali Suliman has a bad knee. That’s his whole job and it hardly seems to be much of a hindrance. These characters don’t exist to grow and change through adversity, nor do they enable Wahlberg’s Michael to grow into anything more than a prestige-driven jerk. They’re simply here for Wahlberg to show off his skills as a leader and disaster preventer, displaying kindness that reads more as a boost to the stars’ personalities and personal egos than a character undergoing an arc.

Conspicuously absent from this summary is Arthur, who doesn’t meet the runners until halfway through the film. The film seems to realize that this is a flaw for a titular inciting incident, so the front is filled with cross-shots of dogs in a homeless fight, as if Homer were playing to an audience who desperately ask “Where is Poochie?” But even when Arthur joins the runners and saves them from wandering off a cliff in the middle of the night, any focus on the dog feels at best like the film bemoaning its entire raison d’être.

This is largely due to the failure to develop a relationship between Michael and Arthur that feels like an actual connection, rather than the contrived machinations of a script outline. Simon Cellan Jones’ eye as a director never manages to personify Arthur effectively enough to transform him into a character with legible emotions, and Wahlberg’s usual weaknesses as an actor are only magnified when forced to charm with a canine scene partner. It’s never convincing that a hungry Arthur stalking the team for random meatballs would encourage such instant loyalty from Michael that he might be willing to sacrifice victory for the dog’s well-being. This failure of the narrative makes the climax of Sick Dog — a set for easy tender points if there ever was one — completely miss the mark.

So if the issue is not the dog, then for what possible reason it should be looked at King Arthur? Well, as much as the characters and characters can be, there is at least something really exciting about watching people compete in an adventure race. It’s easy to get lost in the gorgeous views of the jungle or get caught up in the thrill of a malfunctioning zipline. But even then, the experience is hampered by copious dubbed dialogue that either doesn’t trust the filmmakers’ skills as visual storytellers or the audience’s attention span. Maybe both.

If one wants to watch extreme sports and survival challenges, there is no shortage of clips featuring real athletes in equally awesome climates doing the exact things simulated in this film. The balance here should be experiencing a story, watching characters overcome adversity, and watching them bond with an adorable puppy. still King Arthur demonstrates an inability to do all three. Just one thing to say to that: Woman.

King Arthur hits theaters March 15, 2024

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