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Movie review: 'Air Bud'

August 06, 1997

Movie review: 'Air Bud'

Jason and Paul: Summer is officially stagnant. The weather has been humid and sweltering, the days have dragged forward in a monotone. Now Hollywood has run out of steam. Even if they have been mostly terrible, we have been able to depend over the past several months that every weekend an Uber-Event of a movie would be released. Digital dazzle, technical torque, all prepackaged high-fat, high-cholesterol ulcers of spectacle-sans-story. Maybe this does not sound so appealing. But ladies and gentlemen, anything is more appealing than "Air Bud," the annoying, boring, unimaginative new dish from Disney. I guess the Mouse Men decided that since they provided the surprisingly enjoyable "George of the Jungle," they could take the day off for the making of "Air Bud," a lazy, insipid movie that is neither humorous nor engaging. Boy loses father. Dog has mean trainer. Boy meets dog. Dog loves boy. Dog plays basketball.

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Jason: Maybe I set too high a standard - perhaps as a film critic I have such an artistic yen that I have lost the ability to just have fun at the movies.

Then I went back and watched "Babe." Here is a brilliant family movie - clever, witty, charming, touching, it creates its own magical world without ever once insulting the intelligence of the audience. The animals in this movie have personality, dimension - and not just because of the human voices. It has a cuteness but it is never coy or cloying. It is simply a well-made movie with a classic story of overcoming prejudice - and its lessons are so subtly interwoven into, so integral to the story, that you don't even know you are picking them up. I had fun watching this movie - the third time I saw it.

I hated "Air Bud" from the beginning.

I must say that I went in expecting it to be awful, which is an unfair bias, but my expectations were duly met. The setup is so awful, so familiar and so stacked. Who isn't going to feel sorry for little Josh when they learn his father has passed? But in movies like "The Black Stallion" and "Fly Away Home," the death of a parent is handled in a lyrical, elegiac fashion. In "Air Bud," it's played for straight up sap.

Of course, we're rooting for the dog, too, to get away from its nasty trainer.

The situations are so cliched in "Air Bud" that I half expected the movie to end with a dream team of dogs - Lassie, Shiloh, Chance, Shadow, etc. That would have at least played up some nostalgia and been a sly cultural reference.

Paul: It's not a crime to set a standard for films, even kiddie fare like this, especially in this age of Movie Houses on Cruise Control. This "movie," if it deserves the honor to be called such, is the latest example of the dumbing down of American culture.

Play to the lowest common denominator, say entertainment execs, because it's safe and we don't have to think too hard. When are we going to start challenging our audiences? The kids can take it, too: just look at "Old Yeller," "The Yearling," "Matilda," and Disney's own "Toy Story." They appeal to us because they're smart, and they're not afraid to be honest.

"Air Bud" is built completely around a gimmick. Thanks, Diz, for tossing us a bone with that pathetic, melodramatic plot. It really was moving.

Jason and Paul: "Citizen Kane," "2001:A Space Odyssey," "The Godfather," "Schindler's List," "Pulp Fiction," "The English Patient," and "Air Bud." Which one does not belong?

Jason Myers likes his Alpo thick and chunky, Paul A. Smith is really mad this week.

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