Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Air Bud.”
The Movie: “Air Bud”
Starring: Michael Jeter, Kevin Zegers, Wendy Makkena
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) An unexpected player joins the school basketball team – a circus dog who escaped from a cruel master.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 45 percent
Froemming: We knew this day would come, Brown.
After six years of doing reviews, with one month dedicated to sports, it was only inevitable that we would watch the fabled movie in which, due to a rule book omission for junior high basketball, a dog is allowed to play in the game.
I picked “Air Bud,” a film long known for having one of the more ridiculous plots in cinema history. A movie that stars a golden retriever who can somehow play basketball (and climb fences for some reason), an alcoholic clown who may or may not be crazy on acid for thinking a joint looks like a cockroach, and a mother who can afford a house while working for a napkin distribution company.
We got into the wrong industry, Brown.
Anywho, as I pack up my family to move to another district out of pure spite, Brown give us your first thoughts.
Brown: Yeah… One of us was going to pick this movie. I think I had it on a Netflix list before it got taken off pre-Disney Plus. This movie wasn’t on Disney Plus, so that makes no sense. But neither does this movie, so I dunno.
I had never seen “Air Bud” prior to this installment of the JOE-DOWN. Because you can hear “dog plays basketball” and you understand the movie in three words instead of 90 minutes.
After seeing “Air Bud”… This is the most notes I’ve had for a movie in a while. Mostly because I had to Google “Should dogs eat (insert food here)?” a handful of times. I’m worried that Buddy has the Beetis.
Froemming, get us started while I go buy a package of pudding to feed my dog.
Froemming: Please, do not feed your dog pudding.
Anyway, we are introduced to Norm Snively, a career clown who is very bad at his job and probably has no idea who Bozo is.
Brown: Norm Snively is a more terrifying clown than John Wayne Gacy.
Froemming: My head canon is that he is a serial killer in this.
Anyway, he shows up with his dog to do tricks for the kids. Except he can’t do any of the tricks right, looks terrifying and Bud has to save the party by mocking him in front of the children.
Norm has the balls then to ask the mother to offer recommendations for his act after he destroys the party AND the birthday cake.
Norm is a real sunofabitch.
Brown: The most unbelievable part of the birthday party is our titular dog laying perfectly still during a kid’s birthday party. It’s a golden (REDACTED) retriever. Like Bill Burr said to Conan O’Brien, golden retrievers are great dogs, but they’ll go home with anyone. That dog would be trying to get pets from EVERY kid in that house.
Fed up with the one successful part of his act, Norm decides that he’s going to bring Buddy to the pound. Which, seeing a dog in a kennel makes me infinitely sad.
Making me even more sad is watching said kennel fall onto the highway AND getting hit by a car like it’s the bed in the “Enter Sandman” video.
Froemming: Jackie Framm hits a dog kennel on the road and does not bother getting out of her car to see what she hit or if there is damage to her vehicle. She, too, is a real sunofabitch.
But her son, Josh, sees Bud on the side of the road. Does he alert his mother, who just hit this poor pooch with her vehicle?
Nope. He continues his moping. Which, given the circumstances of his life, I sort of get. The other part of me is angry he knows his mom hit a dog and did nothing about it.
Brown: The family is as heartless about hitting a dog as Otto was getting a Gremlin off the side of the road.
Froemming: Fun fact: That is my favorite “Simpsons” bit.
Brown: We find out that the Framm family – Josh, Jackie and little sister Andrea – moved to a new town in Washington because the plot demands it. Apparently, Jackie got a new job *checks notes* selling napkins… and it’s enough to get you a house near the Puget Sound?!
Froemming: We really made bad career decisions, didn’t we?
Brown: *sobs uncontrollably*
Jackie is a single mom since it turns out that her husband died *checks notes* in a test pilot accident?
Hahahaha… what?! That’s what we’re going with for the mystery death?
Anyway, after Goose bit it, Josh needed a change of scenery so here we are. Josh is a depressed kid going to a new school full of kids with bowl haircuts almost as bad as Will Byers‘.
Brown: Every kid at this school cuts their own hair. As a bowl cut kid of the ‘90s, my school wasn’t that bad with said haircut.
Froemming: My school — and myself — were just as bad. I looked like a jackass for years with my terrible bowl cut.
Brown: Josh is struggling since his dad’s death, so the school and his mom encourage him to do extracurricular activities.
The first choice: Playing trombone in the band. And it goes badly. Almost as bad as when I had to try mouth pieces in elementary school and was discouraged from playing band after being told “Ehh, you could play tuba, I guess?” This was confirmed to be a good idea later when I heard the line in “Mr. Holland’s Opus” that only fat guys with pimples play tuba. As… a fat kid with acne, I didn’t want to be typecasted.
Froemming: This review is bringing out too many bad memories for both of us. I think our problems all began with our terrible bowl haircuts. We never recovered.
Anyway, when this does not work, Josh is made Mr. Manager of the school’s basketball team. He didn’t ask for it, it just was thrown upon him by the coach, who we find out later enjoys whipping basketballs at kids when the team loses.
Josh also discovers a creepy fence where a creepy basketball hoop is hanging in an area full of dead leaves, dead grass and I assume Pennywise.
Brown: It’s at a dilapidated church alongside the bay. It’s as though God wants him to play basketball or something. Like, that’s prime real estate. I feel like someone should be building a house there.
But in the bushes of the court, Josh hears a growling sound. And when he loses his basketball in the brush, it suddenly comes rolling out.
I’m surprised Pennywise didn’t come out of the tall grass waving a child’s hand.
Froemming: Bud won’t come out and play, so the next day Josh takes all the vanilla pudding snack packs from his house to lure the pooch out. I’m pretty sure dogs should not be eating all that pudding. And, JOSH, maybe your mom and sister would have wanted to enjoy some snack packs as well!
Brown: According to my Google search, you shouldn’t feed a dog vanilla pudding. Aside from the sugar, some vanilla puddings have palm oil, which is toxic for dogs.
Alas, this is Buddy through the first 20 minutes of the movie.
Seriously, a third of this movie has a pudding cup somewhere. Big Pudding paid big bucks to get their product on “Air Bud.”
Anyways, Josh tries out for the basketball team because basketball is something he loved doing with his dad. So when he shows up to tryouts with the head coach who looks like Kirkland brand William Shatner, he *checks notes* sits on the bench the entire time.
At the end, Josh has done nothing, but the coach sees him and is all, “Hey, you’re new here. Be my manager. Work harder than the kids on the team.”
You mean to tell me that you never had the kid do a single thing during a tryout for a middle-school sports team? That’s bad coaching. That’s bad teaching. That’s… bad human-ing.
Froemming: The head coach is trying to be the middle-school coach equivalent of Bobby Knight!
After this, Josh also meets the janitor who looks suspiciously like a former Knick, but the man refuses to acknowledge that. Maybe he is in witness protection after meeting a certain New Jersey crime boss.
This is setting up a new coach down the road. But before that, we have to sneak Bud into the house!
Josh brings home this stray dog, and tries to give it a bath. And if you have ever tried to give an animal or pet a bath, you know it is a whole ordeal.
Brown: Josh also feeds Buddy several cans of SpaghettiOs. Which you can do if you enjoy giving dogs the runs.
Froemming: Worked out well for Kramer.
Brown: Earlier in the movie, Josh was playing with his SpaghettiOs and making them into the shape of a dog.
I feel like he’s a step away from making a mashed potato circus tent before going to clown college.
And you wanna know why giving the dog a bath is such an ordeal here? Because Josh gets in the tub with Buddy and the dog’s probably thinking he’s about to be drowned. He did just get out of a house with an asshole clown.
Eventually, Buddy works his way downstairs and makes a mess of the living room. Jackie wants nothing to do with the dog and reluctantly agrees to hang onto the dog until after Christmas. Either the owner of Buddy steps up, or they’re bringing him to the pound.
How does Josh handle this news? By feeding Buddy an ice cream cone while he’s putting up wanted posters. Josh wants this dog to have its foot amputated.
Froemming: Umm, Jackie moved the whole family here and is trying desperately to get Josh out of his funk. And now that he is, with his pal Bud, she says no?
What the hell was this all for, Jackie?!
Brown: She’d rather have Josh do laundry for the basketball team in a Freddy Krueger/Scary Terry boiler room.
In this boiler room, Josh finds out that Arthur, the school’s maintenance worker and a sage black man straight out of a Stephen King novel, is former New York Knick Arthur Chaney. But he blows this off when Josh asks for an autograph, saying that Arthur Chaney is dead.
Look, I know pro athletes didn’t make a lot of money in the 1950s. Most of them worked jobs in the off-season. But going from that to a middle school maintenance worker is kind of a sad fall from grace.
Christmas time comes, and it’s weird. We first get a scene of Josh lighting a candle while his mom seductively reads “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” like we’re in a Shannon Tweed Skinemax movie.
On Christmas morning, Jackie reveals that they can keep Buddy. … And then they proceed to make him live outside. During winter. In Washington state.
This decision will soon be the best and worst thing to happen to the Framm family.
Froemming: We already saw Bud somehow climb up the house to sneak into Josh’s room. Also, kinda cruel to make your child think the dog is going to the pound only to offer it as a Christmas present. Jackie, that’s some messed up thinking. Also, seems kinda cheap since she did not have to do anything to give Bud to Josh. Bud was already there.
Josh now decides to try out for the team. I do not remember it being hard in middle school to be on any team. You just (REDACTED) showed up and you were given a jersey.
Josh has another problem now. Some kid named Larry, who is the bully of this movie. Larry mockingly refers to Josh as Water Boy, though I know of one water boy who wouldn’t enjoy being mocked.
Brown: Josh can show Larry that Captain Insano shows no mercy.
During Josh’s first game, the team (known as the Timberwolves, right down to a knockoff font of the late ‘90s Minnesota Timberwolves font) is struggling. Their whole gameplan is giving Larry the ball. One kid, Tom, can’t catch the ball, so Josh gets called into action. Maybe if Tom spent more time working on his game than stealing food scraps from NBA players, he’d be able to catch a basketball.
Again, because Buddy is an outside dog and isn’t confined to the house, he wanders his way over to the school. And because he’s a wild animal watching a bouncing ball, Buddy disrupts the game by chasing after the ball.
Hijinks ensue, because this is a (REDACTED) kids movie. All that’s missing is “Yakety Sax.”
Froemming: And at some point, Bud bops the ball with his nose and makes a basket, delighting everyone in the crowd, who are used to watching little kids play lousy basketball. Bud is a star now!
But the team loses anyway. And Bud — suddenly becoming Scooby-Doo — leads some faculty after the game to the gym, where the coach is throwing basketballs at Tom like a psychotic. I feel this is just the surface of the horrors of this coach. But, he is fired before we learn anything else.
But hey, Bud is now the mascot for the Timberwolves, despite not being a timberwolf at all!
Brown: Prior to Buddy’s sleuthing, Josh was asked if Buddy could be part of the halftime show at the next game. And they go all out for this with a jersey and basketball shoes.
Look, I get the appeal of dressing up the dog, especially in social media times. But like Captain Raymond Holt’s beloved corgi, Cheddar, either Buddy wears little booties in the snow or Buddy wears nothing.
Because Buddy does halftime shows, suddenly it’s because of the dog doing the halftime show, according to the local newspaper that puts middle school basketball as an A1 story above the fold. … How about they’re winning because they have a former NBA star as a coach instead of a chubby guy trying to be Pat Riley?
Froemming, has there ever been a newspaper in a movie that we’ve liked?
Froemming: I can’t wait for you all in Willmar to powerheadline a strip story across A1 about junior high basketball like it is announcing World War III.
Josh suggests Arthur be the new coach, and he has an interesting way of coaching: Invisible basketballs so the team starts seeing what the others are doing instead of showboating. He is setting them up to be more of a passing team. He stole this concept from Jack McKinney and the Showtime Lakers. If you are gonna steal, I guess steal from one of the best. I guess.
But these kids are in junior high. In reality, the only one who would be all-in on this invisible ball thing would be the kid who sneaks off every 20 minutes and returns smelling like Otto’s jacket.
Brown: Well, the Timberwolves are rolling and they reach the state championship. And the local TV media latch onto the team’s halftime star, Buddy.
Because we need a little drama going into the third act, it’s time to send in the clowns.
Norm approaches the Framm family about getting his dog back so he can use Buddy’s new-found fame for his benefit. He also has all the papers for Buddy, so clearly, the Framms have no case whatsoever.
Froemming: Let’s mention he approaches the family by creeping up on Jackie while she is out in the yard. Like Ted Bundy would have. This man has killed before and he will again.
Also, his only evidence of being the owner is a flier with a fuzzy photo of a golden retriever on it. Norm himself, oddly, is NOT in the photo. Not exactly the best evidence in the world. If I were Jackie, I would have called this pervert’s bluff at every chance. My guess is that the police are looking for him anyway. Because of all the people he has brutally murdered.
But she gives Norm the dog. A dog he didn’t even have a name for. This man is a walking, talking red flag.
Brown: The flag is red from the blood of Norm’s victims. The victims he brutally murdered.
Depressed, Josh decides that he’s going to rescue Buddy from Norm’s creepy murder house with a mud back yard and a window lined with beer cans.
During the rescue, we once again get hijinks.
Only, after Josh rescues Buddy, he *checks notes* tells the dog he can’t own him?
… Why did you go through all this trouble, then?
Froemming: Woah woah woah! Let’s not just skip over that Norm — drunk off his ass based on those empty cans of Bud — drives drunkenly through parks, crashes the town’s sign, nearly runs over a couple having a picnic and then drives his crappy vehicle into the lake.
How. Is. He. Not. In. Jail?
Brown: Oh yeah. Norm straight up chases after a child like he’s a group of backwoods hicks going after Forrest Gump.
Also, Josh gets all flustered when he tells off Buddy and the dog still follows him. It’s a (REDACTED) dog, dude. What would you expect?
Well, the championship game is upon us as Fernfeld takes on Spokane. And there’s two wrinkles in this game.
- Remember Larry, the psycho who constantly picked on Josh? Well, his equally psycho dad moved the family to Spokane so Larry could play for the Warriors.
- Half of the Timberwolves got chicken pox, so the team has a thin roster.
The Timberwolves trail the whole game and run into more problems when one of the players foul out, leaving the team with only four eligible players.
That is, until a dog that is somehow listed on the team’s roster comes running in.
Froemming: There are no rules on dogs playing basketball, Brown. Maybe try learning. Do better.
Arthur makes the unusual call, and since there is no rule, Bud is in the game! And somehow these kids cannot guard the pooch, much to the rage of the Warriors’ coach. It is a miraculous comeback for the Timberwolves. Which leads to Josh’s big moment of sinking the winning shot, a shot he missed before because he was hotdoggin’ and whatnot. And the team wins, and Larry’s dad might have to move the family again out of embarrassment.
But Norm shows up again. Making an ass out of himself, demanding Bud back because he has papers. Papers ruined from when he drunkenly drove his vehicle into a body of water.
So, instead of wrapping it up here with Bud doing some charming prank on Norm which results in Norm giving up on trying to get the dog back, we now head into THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY!
The whole thing is a kangaroo court. Yes, Norm is a jerk and shows up dressed to court in his clown costume. But he actually has physical evidence to help his case. All Josh’s family has is hearsay and conjecture, which are kinds of evidence.
Froemming: Well, we see the judge is clearly senile, as he can’t tell the difference between a child and a dog. To add to the madness, Arthur shows up with a way to settle this whole fiasco: Bring Bud outside and see who he goes to: Norm or Josh.
THAT IS NOT HOW COURT WORKS AT ALL.
Also, to get Bud to come, all it would take would be a treat. Dogs love treats. It’s just science.
And now everyone is outside in THE MISTRIAL OF THE CENTURY to see who Bud goes to. And we see Norm pull out his beatin’ newspaper to entice the dog to come? This guy is pretty stupid, all that happens is Bud destroys the newspaper. And now that I think of it, this movie is rabidly anti-newspaper!
Brown: Buddy went to Norm first. Yes, it was to rip up the newspaper, but he went to Norm. Case over, right? It’s Norm’s dog.
Nope, Buddy goes to Josh and everyone’s happy. Except for Norm, who is dragged away by the cops, likely to be beaten and bleed out like the clown in “Billy Madison.”
And with that, our pudding cups are empty and “Air Bud” is over. Froemming, let’s get to recommendations before we get chased by a clown’s rust bucket of a truck.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: It is perfectly fine for a kids movie. Not for people in their 30s or 40s, like Brown and I.
Brown: If you’re under 10, sure. It’s a harmless kids movie. Dumb as hell, but harmless, save for the killer clown and the bad lessons about what constitutes a dog treat.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: