WITH WRESTLEMANIA 32 coming up this very evening, our resident bad wrestling movie reviewer, Joe, takes a look at Russell Madness – a movie that posits the question: ‘”hat if Air Bud was like, 10x more ridiculous?”
On Episode 367 of the podcast Jordan Jesse Go!, a caller regaled the hosts with an anecdote about his Grandfather asking him what his favourite type of movie was. Assuming his grandfather would respond by saying ‘Comedy’ or ‘Thriller’ or even ‘Sci-Fi’, the caller was stunned when his Grandfather’s favourite type of movie turned out to be was ‘Talking Dog’ movies. I bring this up because going into Russell Madness, you have to understand that it doesn’t matter how bad this film is, some people are just so delighted by seeing dogs do non-dog things that, frankly, it doesn’t matter if this movie is terrible or not. Believe me, it is.
Russell Madness is the story of a dog that wrestles. You see, he’s a Jack Russell and he wrestles and wrestle sounds a bit like russell and thats funny, this shit just writes itself (says the presumably coked up head of Air Bud Entertainment ltd.) so yeah, did you see Air Bud? Or Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver? Or Air Bud: World Pup? Or Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch? Or… You get the idea.
Well, if you’ve seen any of them and want to skip the article, you can just imagine a jokeless version of any of them with pro wrestling replacing an actual sport. Actually, the movie has two jokes; one being the talking monkey likes bananas, and the other being the dog pissing on people’s faces. Like, I appreciate a good kids movie, but normally the jokes should have some finesse, not simply, “HAHA, PISS.” (I once again reference you to the fictional Cokehead CEO.)
So the movie opens on Russell giving a voiceover explaining that this is the story of how he became the greatest tag team wrestler in history but then – record scratch! – it’s not the man voicing over, it’s the dog. Wait, that’s silly, in this movie about a wrestling dog, there’s a dog in a wrestling ring, now that’s just silly. Cut back to Russell in a pet shop where all he wants is a family but he keeps pissing on people and people don’t want a dog that tries to piss in their mouth.
At the same time, our generic white family (who, for the sake of explaining their personalities, will be called Business Dad, Wrestle Son, Smug Daughter and Mom. Mom gets nothing because that’s what the film gives her) have moved from San Diego to Portland as the heavily expositional will of Business Dad’s father specifies he can’t sell the wrestling arena his family owns until he’s made a profit on it for a year. I mention this because this is the first quickly dropped plot point.
Also I don’t know how long the dad’s meant to have been dead but this labyrinthine wrestling arena is covered in dust; as in, Last Crusade level dust. That’s a lot of dust. Then Wrestle Son finds smug daughter playing with toys and tells her to grow up despite her being about six and him being about ten which she points out. Fun fact – Smug Daughter is the only character who says anything that makes sense. She’s also really goddamn smug about it.
Back to the dog shop, and the owner of the shop wants to get rid of Russell because he’s getting older and no one wants the amazing mouth-pissing dog except for the lovely employee who has adopted him just before Russell runs away like the ungrateful little piss-in-the-mouth he is. Now, I could talk about the ‘heartwarming’ family scenes that follow, or I could jump forward to Russell homeless, living in the alley behind the wrestling arena and a restaurant and his feud with a dog that talks like someone doing a bad impression of Ricky Gervais doing a bad cockney accent?
Jump forward to that? OK! So there’s this dog that talks like someone doing a bad impression of Ricky Gervais doing a bad cockney accent, and he keeps bullying Russell to give him the T-Bone steak that a kindly chef gave him, but then out comes the talking monkey to scare him off. There’s also a talking monkey, by the way. He speaks entirely in “NOO YOIK” and banana puns and no one questions that he talks three languages: monkey, human and dog. Also he never ages. In fact, none of the animals in this film age because such things would be depressing.
Now it’s time for the flashback of how the arena became so damn dusty. This is the one credible bit of plotting in the film, it turns out that the arena used to be very popular with such wrestlers as Blond Guy, Other Blonder Guy and Doink the Clown, who appears to do live foley work during his matches. Also Christopher Guest Alumnus Fred Willard is one of the commentators, proving that being caught masturbating in a cinema wasn’t the worst moment in his career.
Then the evil owner of the WUF (Wrestling United Federation) turns up and starts buying out all the territorial wrestling company leaving them with no performers. This is where the film gets depressingly realistic. The film also loves to frame important moments like this under the Ferrano family motto – ‘The Strongest Tag Team of All is Family’ – which is nice because it foreshadows how, later on, we’re going to watch two grown men beat up a dog and a kid.
So fleeing shitcockney bulldog Russell ends up in the ring with Vick Vice, a man who seems to believe that wrestling is real and is actually insane, so, of course, Russell ends up doing what any good dog would do and locks Vick Vice in a chokehold till he seems to pass out. We never see poor Vic again so we can only assume we just watched a man get choked to death by a dog. This sequence also features some of the most obvious toy stunt scenes since American Sniper’s fake baby. I’m not even going to cover the bizarre interludes of Mom talking about her love of sewing machines or Dad’s weird spandex fetish or the surf rock wrestler because we’re on a deadline.
Let’s keep jumping forward. The wrestling dog becomes a Youtube sensation (the video of the wrestling dog entitled, ‘Hey Check This Out, Y’all’, racks up TWO MILLION VIEWS!), there’s a shitty training montage, some shitty bonding stuff with the family and then a weird flashback explaining how the monkey can talk that seems to be set in a Planet of the Apes porn parody after which the family get to see Smug Daughter act smug that none of them believed there was a talking monkey; not even Business Dad, who knew the talking monkey when he was his Dad’s best friend.
But it all leads up to the next big wrestling match as The Trousered Flares, Mr. Caveman, Serial Mummy and The Irate Pirate (as I assume they’re named) face off for the right to face Russell. Serial Mummy wins via the power of believing he is actually an undead resurrected Pharaoh with rotting corpse breath. Now I could take this moment to raise my major issue with the referee of this film – he’s shit. He ignores a lot of obvious disqualifications, he wears this odd green tracksuit and, at times, he lifts up various wrestlers’ shoulders, thereby negating the pin. He is clearly dodgy as he’s screwed hard working wrestlers out of victories, or at least the ones that Russell hasn’t choked to death.
There’s a brief, cough, hilarious, cough, interlude in which John Ratzenberg turns up as evil Mr. Wrestle Company and tries to buy out Russell and the arena, forgetting the whole one year no sale stipulation. Then a woman comes to check the building’s up to code, she gets gunk on her face, Business Dad takes the fucking monkey to a business deal and sells the building and Russell, still forgetting the whole no-sale clause. We now jump forward to Russell’s next match which is against The Mongol, a guy dressed as a traditional Mongolian warrior showing that this film has about as much racial sensitivity as, well, actual WWE shows. Then Russell goes on the road and we get a montage of them forgetting to be there for Easter, Birthdays, anniversaries and generally Business Dad becoming Asshole Dad.
And now we get to where the film gets interesting and, by interesting, I mean still super-awful. Enter Joh Hennigan as The Hammer. Hennigan is better known as Johnny Nitro, John Morrison or Jonny Mundo and is, by my estimations, the only former-WWE star in the film. As a result, he actually manages to, somehow, bring legitimacy to his performance playing off a brash arrogant persona, inexplicably retaining that legitimacy when he’s being put in a hair-pull submission hold by a dog. After he cheats in a match using a dog whistle to get Russell to lie down for a quick pin, Russell learns the shocking truth; Wrestling Isn’t Real. I know, mind blown right? It’s almost as if Dad had been paying people to lie down and take a pin from a dog. Oh wait he had. Business Dad, how could you?!
I can’t really tell you what happened in the last 15 minutes of the film as I fell asleep here, but from what I got, there was a tag title match between Dog and Wrestle Son versus The Hammer and the Racist Austrian Stereotype. Hammer tried to go for another dog whistle pin, pulled off a flawless second rope corkscrew moonsault but the dog had earplugs so was pretending to be under the effects of the dog whistle which allowed Russell to go for the pin. Also, Wrestle Son whacks Austrian right in the plums and no disqualifications. The ref specifically said no low blows. What is your fucking problem, ref?
So the film ends on a heartwarming voiceover where Russell explains how they went on to be champions forever and the family were never unhappy again and Ice Cream became a vegetable that they ate for every meal and holy shit I just realised where I recognised the late night talk show host from – he was the overly chirpy toy shop worker from Jingle all the Way 2.
Fucking hell. I am done. This movie disappointed me in ways I can’t describe. It was a disgrace to the good name of Air Bud, to Talking Dog movies. I bet that one guy’s granddad couldn’t even find much to like in it. Yet, somehow, I’ve written like 1,900 words on it. You know what? WWE Films, I take it back. I’d probably take another Chaperone movie over this shit. Or even a movie about surfing, wrestling, animated penguins. Oh, wait, that’s happening. I’m done. Go away.
In a piece of subtle cross-promotion, you can find more of Joe’s thoughts on wrestling here.