Friday, September 30, 2016

Family Movie Night: RUSSELL MADNESS

Welcome to another installment of FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT, where we give our recommendation on a family-friendly movie to enjoy. Today we review the canine comedy, RUSSELL MADNESS.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. The success of Disney's Air Bud in 1997, a movie about a golden retriever that plays basketball, spawned a whole host of sequels and spinoffs featuring dogs playing every sport under the sun, as well as having other, non-sporting adventures, and generally being cute and furry.

So it comes as no surprise that a film like Russell Madness should exist in such a world. The debut release from Air Bud Entertainment, a company created to produce the projects Disney didn't want, apparently, Russell Madness is the story of a Jack Russell terrier named, in a masterstroke of clever scriptwriting, Russell. It seems that Russell isn't the bravest dog who ever lived, and his tendency to pee on anyone who picks him up, a gag the film visits repeatedly, prevents him from getting adopted and finding a family of his own. Faced with being sent to the pound, Russell escapes from the pet shop where he's lived thus far and begins a desperate search to find the family he dreams of.

Meanwhile, the Ferraro family has just moved back to the film's setting of Portland, Oregon, to try and revive the Ferraro Wrestling Arena, a defunct family business left to patriarch Nate by his father. As the Ferraros begin trying to revive the old venue, the family and Russell find each other. It turns out that Russell has some pretty slick moves despite being a "scaredy-dog" (the movie's phrase, not mine), and Russell becomes part of the stable of talent at the Ferraro Arena.

Did you catch that? Russell Madness is about a Jack Russell terrier that becomes a pro wrestler. Let's be clear: this is a bloody stupid premise for a movie. Under any other circumstances, the end result would have been excruciating, but it seems to work here in a candy-coated, focus-grouped kind of way. The story is aimed squarely at the ten-and-under crowd, and seems prepared to stop at nothing to give the kids another exciting set piece. Look out for Russell's first (unsanctioned and very much impromptu) wrestling match, in which the movie sacrifices basic knowledge of how a dog's front legs work -- or even how long they're supposed to be -- for the chance to give its youngest viewers another thrill.

There's no shortage of cheap jokes to make the kids laugh, either, most of which come from Hunk, a monkey who lives in the Ferraro Arena and spouts another banana-based gag nearly every time he speaks. What saved the movie for me, though, is the adult actors. None of the adults involved in this movie seemed like they didn't want to be there. Maybe it's the saving grace of wrestling being such an inherently silly spectacle, but this cast just seems to be having a ball with the gig, especially the wrestlers, of course.

But the whole point of a family movie is to deliver yet another tired sermon about the importance of family as an institution. Russell Madness duly observes this requirement, but apart from couching its main message in a wrestling metaphor -- "The Strongest Tag Team is Family" -- the movie steers clear from the common pitfall of saccharine fixation on this bond.

Russell Madness doesn't knock 2014's Scooby-Doo WrestleMania Mystery off the top spot as my favorite silly kids movie about wrestling, but it's not without its own sense of cornball fun. And it has puppies. Bonus points for the puppies.

Russell Madness is rated PG for some rude humor and sports action.

Robert's Rating: 6.5/10

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