‘Russell Madness’ Review: Back to the Dog House

Posted in The Screening Room by - April 16, 2016

Comedy is a difficult art form. It takes an immense amount of time and effort to hone the craft by making clever observations, writing them into a proper punchline, and testing the delivery to an audience who may just flat-out end up hating you. It’s not an undertaking for the faint of heart, nor one that should be approached without the proper respect.

Then again, you could ignore all of that for half-thought puns, awful timing, and go-nowhere events meant to elicit a chuckle out of a person’s automatic response to complete revulsion. We call this “The Sandler Theorem,” and 2015’s Russell Madness trips a little too close to this line for being completely removed from all things Happy Madison.

As the Ferraro family inherits the remnants of their once-proud wrestling arena, they struggle to bring excitement back to the ring. Their first big match looks like it will fail spectacularly, but the appearance of a stray dog entering the fight and taking down the biggest brawlers quickly makes their events an internet sensation. A talking monkey (voiced by Will Sasso) joins as Russell’s (voiced by Sean Giambrone) trainer, teaching him all the ins and outs of classic spectacle wrestling. But an old sleazeball promoter (John Ratzenberger) steps in, offering to help remodel the arena in exchange for exclusive rights on the dog’s career. Hank, the monkey, knows there’s something more afoot – but can he persuade Nate, the father (David Milchard), not to take the deal?

Made by Air Bud Entertainment (yes, apparently they’re a brand), you can plot out the entire film if you’ve seen any other “animal becomes a sports hero” kid flick. The Ferraro kids, Max, and Lena (played by Mason Vale Cotton and Mckenna Grace, respectively), are the heart and soul of the movie, in addition to our talking pet protagonists. It’s Lena that first encounters Hank, and Max becomes Russell’s best friend and training partner. They’re child actors, so you can’t ask too much, but it is sad to see Cotton fall from being the son of Don Draper on Mad Men to this pathetic direct-to-digital nonsense. It’s good for him to get a more central role, sure, but this movie isn’t doing him any favors.

In fact, that’s the weakness of the entire event. David Milchard is fine as Nate, but you can tell he’s written poorly and being directed even worse. They’re going for goofy and hammy father, but the result is just awkward. Even worse is the inclusion of Ratzenberger as Mick Vaughn. This is the guy who voiced Ham the piggy bank for a generation with the Toy Story movies – did he need to bring himself down to something like this? He’s menacing and occasionally funny, sure, but it’s not worth his time. I hope he isn’t strapped for cash or fighting for work at his age. The man’s a national treasure.

We could also dive into the horrific CGI used to make the animal characters talk, but that’s so par for the course, it’s hard to dedicate any time to. Be honest: you didn’t expect it to look natural, and something has to be more painful in this movie than the terrible banana jokes and puns. It’s something one comes to expect from low-budget, small-concept kid’s movies, so I suppose it’s something I begrudgingly accept.

Perhaps I’m too harsh on Russell Madness, though –I mean, I’m only a film critic, what the heck do I know? Maybe this wasn’t meant for me. My opinions are just too clouded against movies of this type because clearly I can’t be a fan and a professional. So, in the concession of this fact, I’ll stick a toddler on this film and see what they think. Look for that review soon – a fresh set of eyes still weary from naptime might see what I couldn’t in this flea-ridden flick.

Final Verdict: Skip It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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