Air Bud does professional wrestling. The end. That’s all there really is to say about Russell Madness. If you’ve seen one Air Bud — or Air Buddies, I guess — movie, you know exactly what you’re in for with this one. Sure, it’s a different lead character — this time it’s a Jack Russell Terrier named Russell, because of course it is — but it’s the same type of formula you’d expect from this type of movie. The “point” is on the poster and reiterated throughout its entirety: “the strongest tag team is family.”
The story sees Russell (voice of Sean Gianbrone), fearful of being sent to the pound, deciding to escape from his pet store. He winds up at the recently reborn Ferraro Wrestling Arena, after Nate (David Milchard) and his family inherited it from his grandfather. Russell shows a penchant for professional wrestling, and soon becomes the star attraction. That’s … about as much of the plot as one wants to give away, but let’s just say that a rival corporation, led by one Mick Vaughn (John Ratzenberger) and starring “The Hammer” (John Hennigan) comes into play at one point.
There isn’t a single moment of Russell Madness that feels authentic — and this is a film that deals with professional wrestling, the fakest sport to exist (and I love it). The film doesn’t really get into how professional wrestling works, treating it as real as any sport, and it honestly felt more like it should be a movie about boxing, except that dogs doing flips off ropes is cooler than trying to watch them box, I assume.
It’s all about how important family is. Would you believe that at one point, the father and the dog (and a monkey) go on a long trip and miss not only Easter, but one of the kid’s birthdays? And the film treats this as a pretty important thing, even though the husband’s justification is pretty sound; if he doesn’t do this, they’ll essentially be homeless. Whatever. Family comes first, no matter what. Oh, and a kid and a dog can beat actual professional wrestlers — in what we’d call a “shoot fight” — if they believe hard enough.
There’s one funny part to Russell Madness, and that comes from John Hennigan playing the main in-ring villain. See, the kids — the people at whom the film is targeting — probably won’t know this, but he’s an actual professional wrestler who used to be in the WWE, and as of writing is working with Lucha Underground. He almost gets to do a self-parody turn here, although some of his signatures — at least, from his WWE time — made it into the film. He even gets to try to hit a corkscrew moonsault. Yes, I realize I just lost the attention of at least half of you.
The dialogue isn’t good, the jokes mostly revolve around the talking monkey — who can talk to humans because it speaks the language of several species — making banana puns, none of the drama or suspense works, and the acting is, for a lot of the film, not particularly good. Even the in-ring action is on the low end when it comes to sports movies. There’s nothing to recommend about Russell Madness except watching John Hennigan.
Here’s how bad the jokes in this movie get: A running gag in the film revolves around people picking up Russell and finding themselves being urinated upon by the dog. This happens something like three times in the opening ten minutes. That’s the level that we’re on here, folks. That and banana jokes. How many times do you think we make a “banana split” joke? I think it was only twice, but the dialogue is so bad on the whole that I may have tuned out one or two other times.
Russell Madness is yet another awful Air Bud movie, although this one stars a Jack Russell Terrier named, you guessed it, “Russell.” It’s a boring and simplistic movie whose story seemed better fit for boxing, not professional wrestling, and whose dialogue will make anyone over the age of eight cringe nonstop for its entirety. The only joy that can be had is, if you are a professional wrestling fan, watching John Hennigan get beat up by a dog a couple of times. The rest of the Russell Madness is awful.