After inducting Trish Stratus’s barking like a dog, I’ve decided to keep up the theme and write about another time that dogs and wrestling met, mated, and produced an unviable embryo.
So what better subject matter than Russell Madness, one of the most insane family movies ever produced?
You’d think that a film about a dog who conquers the sport of pro wrestling would be the kind of thing those Air Bud hacks would throw together. I’m thinking, Air Bud 12: Paws Count Anywhere.
Well, it turns out this is exactly the kind of thing those Air Bud hacks would, and did, throw together.
Russell, the Jack Russell terrier, narrates his early days in a pet shop with the rest of his litter (who, besides Russell, were presumably named Jack, Terri, and, uh, Er). Russell proceeds to pee on the first little kid who picks him up.
Poor incontinent Russell waits around for a whole year without a home, but that all changes, he says in retrospect, when the Ferraro wrestling family move back in town and (I can only predict) buy the dog from the pet shop and raise him to fight. But that sounds more like a sob story you’d hear on one of those Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercials than the plot of a family film, so I’m going to guess that that’s not going to happen.
The Ferraros return to their old abandoned wrestling arena, which is run-down and littered with cobwebs. They’ve been gone so long, some numbskull has broken in and added a fourth rope to the ring.
There’s also a monkey.
Dad wishes he could just give the place a facelift and flip it…
…but Mom thinks it will bring the family closer together. Hmmm… pro wrestling helping marriages and strengthening family relationships? That’s a new one. Besides, Granddad’s will says the family has to turn a profit with the arena within a year before they’re allowed to sell it. A strange stipulation for a will, but it certainly beats staying in a haunted house. Which reminds me… did I mention that the arena is also the family’s new home?
Dad gets nostalgic when he finds an old wrestling figure he used to play with, showing his son all the moves he used to make it do, including body slams, which he demonstrates by flinging the doll onto the bed because, by law, no movie or TV show is allowed to get that move right.
Meanwhile, back at the pet store, Russell pees on Bubba Ray Dudley before hearing that he’s going to be sent off to the pound if he’s not sold soon. The other, nice pet shop employee desperately doesn’t want that to happen — although why exactly the pound is so bad is never spelled out. The big musical number about euthanasia didn’t test well at the screenings, I guess.
Russell flees the store before he can be put in the proverbial GTS. Pet Shop Dudley chases the dog, who, roaming the streets, runs the risk of getting picked up as a stray and taken to the pound. Therefore he must be captured ASAP and uh, taken to the pound, but Russell escapes.
This is bad news for the other pet shop boy, who just adopted Russell seconds earlier.
In the Ferraro house, the family discovers an old photo album that lets Dad relive the good old days of the 1980s, when his grandfather ran popular wrestling events at the arena. That is, until the evil McVaughn (or Mick Vaughn) tried to buy out the business and all the others in the country to make way for his own “WUF” promotion. Papa Ferraro refused, and his regional promotion was soon driven out of business. Sound familiar to anyone? No, seriously, help me out, I’m drawing a blank. I know I’ve heard this exact plot before. The Wonder Years, maybe?
“Just because you lost the round,” says the son, “doesn’t mean you lost the match.” He’s trying to say that the family wrestling promotion ought to start up again. First step: figuring out the difference between wrestling and boxing.
Back on the streets, Russell takes shelter outside the Ferraro arena and encounters an actual British Bulldog (albeit one with clearer diction than Davey Boy Smith) who tries to steal his food. He gets saved by the monkey.
And speaking of the monkey, porno theater patron Fred Willard plays a veteran announcer who returns for the brand-spankin-new relaunch of the Ferraro promotion.
The first match features a surfer dude who comes to the ring with a board and can barely wrestle.
Remind you of anyone?
His opponent is a convict who uses a head vise for a finisher.
Remind you of anyone?
Russell runs in to the ring while fleeing from the British bulldog. Remind you of — oh, sorry. I talked about him already. Anyway, Russell pees on the heel…
…who, thanks to a banana peel dropped by the monkey, some unconvincing computer effects…
…and a vicious choke hold…
…is rendered unconscious.
Naturally, the kids want to adopt the animal that just strangled a grown man half to death.
And naturally, after video of the wrestling dog gets a million views on YouTube, news crews are on the scene the next morning. The shocker is that, rather than bust the family for animal abuse, they ask when Russell’s next match will be.
The monkey, who has been hiding out of the family’s sight for the first part of the film, finally steps out of the shadows and tells the family that he is going to manage Russell. Did I mention the monkey could talk? Dad then introduces the monkey to his wife, son, and daughter by name, none of which are important enough to mention in this article.
After a training montage set to a theme song called, “Russell Mania,” no doubt written and recorded before the film had to change its name to “Russell Madness” for legal reasons, the dog gets a new costume and a new name: Russell Maniac.
Again, this movie clearly had a different title before the Air Bud Productions had heard the name, “Jerry McDevitt.”
A mummy (or possibly yeti) wins a battle royal on the next card, earning himself a chance to brutalize the Ferraros’ new family dog.
Remember, in this movie, the family’s wrestling matches are all shoots, so the Ferraros get worried big time when the mummy slams their family pet to the mat. Could they perhaps feel partly responsible?
Fortunately, Russell, rather than getting predictably killed, makes a big comeback and unravels the mummy, dizzying him and putting him out for the count.
The evil promoter Mick Vaughn, who is more interested in entertainment than wrestling, tries to poach Russell (not literally), but Dad declines. Mick Vaughn is played by John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff Clavin on Cheers and is the sixth highest-grossing actor of all time. Seriously.
Shortly after, the family gets a visit from the safety inspector, who finds out their arena is a death trap and forces them to shut down until they get it repaired. In a travesty of justice, the family cannot recklessly endanger their dog’s well-being until they stop recklessly endangering their customers’.
That means Dad has to sell out to Mick Vaughn and the WUF. “Welcome to the big show,” says Vaughn while standing in front of a vaguely Big Show-like cardboard cutout of himself in a singlet. Then again, that would have required the writers to have not only heard of The Big Show, but seen him wrestle circa 2009 in that ring gear, so I’m probably giving them too much credit.
Russell, Dad, and the monkey sacrifice their time with the family to go on tour as Russell becomes a major celebrity and wins every match without letting his opponents get in even a lick of offense (which is incredibly fortunate, since even the most basic of wrestling moves would be enough to confine Russell to the cone of shame).
Dad’s plan is for Russell to win the WUF title and then immediately retire as champion so they can spend more time with the family. First animal abuse, and now refusing to job? What kind of scoundrel is this man?
Unfortunately, the champion is Johnny Mundo — yes, John Hennigan/Nitro/Morrison — who weighs exactly ten times as much as Russell and vows to pound his opponent (who, I must remind you again, is a f**king dog) into the ground. You’ve got to wonder why Mr. Hennigan would lower himself to such an awful script, until you remember that he used to call himself the Shaman of Sexy and claimed residence at the Palace of Wisdom.
Mick Vaughn gets Mundo to do the job (bribing him under the table to do so, of course — fixing matches in wrestling would be scandalous), and the monkey for some reason is livid that his protege is being made the business’s #1 guy without the risk of getting seriously injured.
In the match, Russell hits Johnny with his finisher, the Russell Tussle (where he basically just jumps at his opponent’s chest), but showboats too much, allowing his opponent to take a hit off a joint concealed in his wrist band.
Or maybe it’s a dog whistle. With Russell incapacitated, Johnny goes into business for himself, pinning two of the dog’s four shoulders to the mat for the 1-2-3 to retain the title. He literally screwed the pooch! (Okay, again, not literally)
While Mick Vaughn and Helix “The Hammer” Munroe (Mundo) discuss plans for a lucrative rematch, Russell overhears that all of his opponents on the WUF tour were paid to job for the dog and is crestfallen.
“You pay them?” says the son. “How could you do this, Dad?” Because he’s not an insane puppy-killer, kiddo. No, I take that back; Dad denies any knowledge that he was sending his dog into anything other than a legitimate fight against 300-pound men, and he refuses to let his dog compete in matches where he’s guaranteed not to get torn to pieces, so he breaks off his deal with Mick Vaughn. The more I watch, the more I get the feeling that the script was written by Michael Vick.
“Where I come from [the 1920s], wrestlers win on their own merit,” says Dad. Unfortunately, the fine print in their contract ceded ownership of Russell and their family arena to the evil wrestling promoter who, and I cannot reiterate this enough, is the one who wants the dog to just pretend-fight, making him the only sane person in this entire movie.
On the other hand, in the very next scene, he talks trash and brags to the big-shot dog about being his boss, so even he has at least one screw loose.
But what’s this? The guy from the pet store is back with a document proving him to be the rightful owner of Russell, not the evil Mick Vaughn, who wants to exploit the dog for show biz. Okay, so maybe this guy is the only sane person in the movie. He immediately hands over custody to the Ferraros so they can keep pitting the dog against adult human males.
After some legal wrangling, the two parties agree to put ownership of both the arena and the dog on the line in a shoot match, except this time, it’s a tag team match, playa.
The son steps up to be Russell’s tag team partner and uses every dirty trick in the book, from eye gouging and nose-hair-pulling to low blows and wedgies to gain an advantage over the heels.
But then, the evil Helix Munroe resorts to *gasp* cheating, using the dog whistle to put Russell down again. Morrison then goes to the top rope to perform Starship Pain. On a dog.
Russell moves out of the way in the nick of time, although, to be honest, even if he had lain completely still, Johnny still probably would have missed him.
Russell pins Johnny to win the match, the family arena, and, somehow, the tag team titles. There are really only so many plot holes a person can bother to point out in a movie about a wresting dog.
Mick Vaughn then berates Johnny Mundo and gets flung out of the ring for his trouble.
And Russell and the boy were somehow allowed to keep the rival company’s belts for years and years, bringing great fame and fortune to their dog-fighting family, who are for some unfathomable reason are supposed to be the good guys. Cue the credits…
…which assure us not only that any resemblance of Mick Vaughn to Vince McMahon is purely coincidental, but that no animals were harmed in the making of this film. And isn’t that the most important thing? Only a monster would willingly put an animal in harm’s way for entertainment.