Air Bud: Golden Receiver

1998, G, 92 min. Directed by Richard Martin. Starring Kevin Zegers, Gregory Harrison, Cynthia Stevenson, Nora Dunn, Perry Anzilotti, Robert Constanzo, Shayn Solberg.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 21, 1998

This second installment in what looks to be an ongoing series is about as “family entertainment” as you can get. Granted, sometimes that's a good thing, but when the directors and producers start equating “family” with “mediocrity,” that's where things tend to go wrong. And despite its good intentions and noble aspirations, Air Bud: Golden Receiver falls somewhere between the After-School Special zone and that hellish gray area specially reserved for overzealous kid'n'pooch buddy films. Still, things could have been much worse. Zegers reprises his role as Josh Framm, who as the film opens is just entering the eighth grade alongside his buddy Tom (Solberg). His mother has begun dating once more after the death of his test-pilot father, and in an interesting bit that puts you in mind of Shallow Grave as performed by the cast of A Family Affair, a bumbling trio of prospective dates/boyfriends parades in front of the aghast youngster. Life is rough, until one day mom's new beau -- Dr. Sullivan, the new town vet (Harrison) -- offers Josh a football as a sort of peace offering. Anyone who's even vaguely familiar with the original Air Bud knows that this is the wrong piece of athletic equipment for Josh, but Buddy, that ambidextrous golden retriever (played this time out by four identical dogs; the original Buddy has since passed on), takes to the game in much the same way as he did to basketball earlier in Josh's life. That is to say, he's a born footballer, though whether this is a subtle dig at Babe's pigskin is left entirely up to the viewer. In short order, Josh joins the junior high football team, a sort of Bad News Bears for the gridiron, and along with Buddy, takes the team from last place forward. Josh also learns the value of trusting the new man in his mother's life and so on, but director Martin (helmer of many Highlander episodes) is working from a bit of a pulpit, allowing for none of the subtlety that should flow seamlessly from the work. Instead, he plays the comedic elements broadly, with the likes of SNL alum Dunn and Anzilotti as a pair of Boris and Natasha-esque Russkie no-goodniks out to capture Buddy and force him to perform in their traveling circus. Hijinks and madcap capers abound, but lest we ever forget there's a lesson to be learned here (or two, or three), Martin frequently cuts back to the bewildered Josh trying to keep things aboveboard. It's certainly not the worst of the family-oriented filmmaking out there these days -- Zegers is a terrific young newcomer when given the right material -- but it's also nowhere near the best. A decent way to settle the little ones down on a Saturday afternoon, sure, but so is Ritalin.

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Air Bud: Golden Receiver, Richard Martin, Kevin Zegers, Gregory Harrison, Cynthia Stevenson, Nora Dunn, Perry Anzilotti, Robert Constanzo, Shayn Solberg

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