He's got the golden touch
After mastering basketball, football, baseball, and soccer, our canine hero Buddy lifts his leg on hockey, golf, speed walking, and rhythmic gymnastics to take on that most popular and demanding of left-over pseudo-sports: beach volleyball. But first, we have to suffer through a couple of awkward pre-teen girls mooning over their soon to be lost via parental relocation to San Diego friendship and the surprising geriatric-fication of Edie McClurg. Oh yeah, and there is a little brat named Noah who is so enamored of ice cream that he gobbles it down by the gallon, even as his toddler sized Huggies Pull-Ups scream enough! When a skate rat beach bum moves in next door to the Framm family and their clever cur, "El Buddo," he's concerned that there isn't anything exciting to do in this one mongrel town. Apparently he's right to be perturbed, since he ends up playing spike and spot with still in gal pal grief Andrea Framm and her much more agile distemper factory. Eventually, all formulaic roads lead to a crucial championship game with first prize being a trip to California to watch plastic surgery disasters lob loads at each other. And somewhere along the line, Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci transmogrify into a couple of trailer trash rejects looking to rob a local museum of a rare gemstone. Just like with everything else in this Heartland heartworm haven, they just can't seem to do it without good ol' Air Bud.
Air Bud Spikes Back is really three movies all crammed into the backseat of a single cinematic Suzuki Samurai and sent spinning around a hairpin turn at an incredibly derivative plot pace. Our first film deals with Buddy, the multi-faceted mutt who may be cute as a button, but really tests the limits of skepticism deferment with his supposed athletic prowess. True, in past installments of this "doG knows why" continuing series of sports spoofs, camera tricks, minimal dog effort, and some obvious special effects have been used to manipulate the audience into thinking that a golden retriever was Kobe Michael Bryant Vick Ichiro Pele'. Apparently we now have to add Gabrielle Reese to the list of puppy powers (obvious "dog/bitch" joke avoided for taste reasons). The second motion picture is a saccharine slice of sentimental shoe leather involving Buddy's buddy Andrea as she goes all mental over her horse-faced friend leaving town. But all it takes is a little brother constantly soiling himself, a rat faced, doe eyed next door dream boat, and the desperation for airfare to California to raise this child's malaise and get her onto the beach volleyball court where she really doesn't belong. And finally, to add a little Macaulay to the Culkin, our third turd offers a couple of bumbling thieves who want to steal a rather large diamond, the Mull of Kintyre or something like that, from a local museum (why a town that celebrates one dog's derring-do would be chosen to host a jewel, semi-precious or otherwise, is another story all together). They discover that Buddy has the right mix of physical prowess and fleas to successfully maneuver the security system and snag the sparkling carbon. So now we get to add "heist fest" to our ever growing plot pot. All crammed together, our battling tales form an overstuffed sausage of a movie made appetizing only by the fuzzy muzzle of the adorable cuddly Buddly.
Frankly, kids will find the latter two tales fairly entertaining. Buddy is one fetching fetcher and his ravishing good looks will win over easily turned tots, and many a concrete heart as well. The best friend discombobulation is also handled in a Babysitters Club / Nancy Drew style fashion that's only missing the blood oath and pinky swear to be 100% prepubescently palatable. Preteens in the audience will get moist just thinking about the box of treasures and scented stationary the two plain Janes exchange. Even adults, not made hyper-cynical from the media and mentality they must engulf every day as part of growing old, will enjoy the cheerful Noah as he waddles to the ice cream shop to indulge his every widening sweet tooth on another triple decker sampling of frozen butter fat. And if a movie can't knowing plot check John Hughes a couple of dozen times (even if the criminals here make Beavis and Butt-head look like Huntley and Brinkley), what's wrong with the world? What may confuse all the demographics, though, is the volleyball bunk. Usually enjoyed by individuals who insert "gnarly" and "dude" into their vocabulary at awkward conversational moments, this set and spike sport has a very limited cultural appeal. Unless the wee ones attend an all-girls parochial school mandating student athletics participation or like sand in their shorts, they will only enjoy the moments when Buddy bounces the ball on his snout like an incredibly hairy seal. All the other training and tryout crud will just make them inadvertently pass liquid from their mouths. While there is no legitimate excuse for milking this fizzling franchise so intellectually and enjoyably dry, Air Bud Spikes Back is no worse than hundreds of other made for video kid titles that you'll rush out and buy if only to provide your young'ens with a parental placebo. It's dull, but occasionally darling.
Disney does its dangest to frig up Air Bud's DVD presentation by packing the disc with useless bonus content and then skimping on the actual sound and vision presentation. Though it is no major masterpiece of filmmaking, director Jake Southon is a noted cinematographer and the cheap full frame transfer turns potentially cinematic moments into made for TV trash. The square box effect just constantly reminds the viewer that you are watching something mandated for the small, not the large, screen. There is also a faux film Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio track that is too front heavy to be immersive. It only kicks in when the really lame folk pop poop songs come creeping out from under the movie's training pants to soil the soundtrack. Then there are the extras. The Behind the Scenes featurette is nothing more than a fellow actor's love letter to their canine co-star. We do get to see a couple of scenes of Buddy devouring a volleyball like it was a newborn kitten, but otherwise it's just lots of poetic waxing. The outtakes are interesting because they show how even the most illiterately written line of dialogue can be flubbed by Canadian actors trying to hide their obvious "aboot 'eh?" accents. There is a game you play with your DVD remote that, frankly, requires too much hand-eye-idiot coordination to be much fun (and the prize you win is a montage of Air Bud Spikes Back moments). Add Disney's usual dose of weird trailers (although the extreme sports monkey movie looks ape-alicious) and you get a bunch of digital dregs for a decidedly dumb movie.
Air Bud Spikes Back may not be the final word for this Spot of sports, and as long as they are all as charmingly bland as this film, there's no real threat to the public at large. But it's hard to imagine where Buddy's healthy haunches will turn up next. Here's hoping for either the biathlon or zorbing.
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• Behind the Scenes Featurette
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