Air Bud - *

Air Bud

It must say something for how idea-starved Hollywood is these days when a dog who can shoot a basket, rather than appearing on a “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment, is given his own major film feature. What’s next? Danny the Dealmaking Dog Who Could Shake Hands, or perhaps a murder mystery involving a dog that rolls over and plays dead?

Anyhow, the hoops-shooting golden retriever has his own film, Air Bud. Buddy is his name, and he starts out as the overworked and underappreciated half of Clown and a Hound. Sniveley the Clown (Michael Jeter) is his mean clown owner, who hates both dogs and kids. After a particularly disastrous birthday party, Sniveley and Buddy part ways: Buddy manages to escape from Sniveley on his way to the dog pound.

Enter the Framm family. Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is a new kid in Fernfield, Washington. After his father (a test pilot, no less) died, his mother (Wendy Makkena) moved him and his baby sister to Fernfield for a new start. Josh, who used to like playing basketball with his dad, is now in a state of depression. He needs a friend, and finds one in Buddy, whom he discovers in an abandoned church. Josh sneaks him home, and somehow manages to persuade his reluctant mother to let him keep Buddy for a few weeks. He only destroys a few rooms.

Meanwhile, Josh is slowly returning to the world of basketball. He signs on as the manager (aka water boy) of the school basketball team, and begins playing basketball in the abandoned church yard. There, he discovers Buddy’s hidden talent: basketball. Soon, Josh is an official player on the team, and Buddy is their mascot. And you know that it won’t be long until Buddy slips on that uniform and takes to the court.

Aside from being a one-trick pony, the film has other problems. It unsuccessfully tries to blend fantasy and reality. On one hand you’ve got a basketball playing dog who wears tennis shoes, but on the other you’ve got a film that tries to deal with single motherhood, the problem of abusive coaches, a kid attempting to cope with the tragic loss of a parent, and some tricky legal issues involving ownership. The two halves don’t mix well. For the film’s sake, you’re better off treating it as a fantasy. Otherwise, you’re stuck with questions like: how does the dog know all the rules of basketball? or With black-and-white vision, how can he differentiate his team’s uniforms from his opponents? However, treating the film as fantasy merely makes the dips into serious issues all the more tedious.

The film’s basketball sequences have some serious problems, however. They seem to stem from the fact that Buddy’s trick is somewhat limited. He doesn’t really play basketball…someone just tosses him the ball, which he bounces off his nose through the hoop. Sure, it’s a neat trick, but it requires the filmmakers to jump through some hoops themselves to make it seem as if he is an active player in the game. For example: Josh has a clear shot at the basket, but with the clock ticking, he turns away from his clear shot in order to feed the ball to Buddy (who happens to be in the right position to make his nose-bounce-shot). The action is filmed in such tight close-ups that you never get a sense of where the ball is on the court, or if there’s a court at all. Heck, with all the people around, there might be 40 basketball players or so.

Sure, Buddy’s a cute dog, and he has a nice trick that’s interesting to see maybe once or twice. But this is fodder for a five-minute clip on TV, not a feature film.

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