Rated G - Running time: 1:30 - Released 8/14/98

Cashing in on the success (?) of last year's Air Bud, in which a dog plays basketball better than any of the human characters, Disney has wasted no time in producing its sequel. In this film, the dog switches to football and is just as spectacular. Whether this film is a success or not depends on the viewer's willingness to accept the absurd. If you're a 7-year-old, at whom the film is aimed, you'll probably have no problem with the idea of a dog being able to join a school football team. If you're a cynical old critic like me, you may feel differently.

Air Bud: Golden Receiver is written by the same team as its predecessor, Paul Tamasy and Aaron Mendelsohn, but is helmed by a new director, Richard Martin. Using no actors from its prequel except Kevin Zegers as the young boy character, Josh Framm, the film takes up basically where Air Bud left off. Josh's widowed mother Jackie is now played by Cynthia Stevenson; she is still single, but beginning to date a little. Her latest boyfriend is a veterinarian named Patrick (Gregory Harrison), for whom Josh doesn't care much. We are given no good reason for this except the old standard "kid who doesn't like his mom's boyfriend" plot element. Patrick is really a perfectly nice guy, and even Buddy (the dog) likes him.

School is starting and Josh considers going out for his school's football team, the Timberwolves. The coach (Robert Costanzo) notices that he has a pretty good arm and signs him up as backup quarterback. He expects to spend the season warming the bench, but when the starting QB is injured, Josh must step in. That's when he enlists the aid of Buddy, who, it has been discovered, can catch a football as easily as shoot a basketball. Apparently tossing the rules of school sports aside, the coach allows Buddy on the team, and he becomes its star. He has his own little jersey, helmet, and pads, and is unstoppable by any other team.

At the same time as this, we find a Russian couple, played by Perry Anzilotti and Saturday Night Live alum Nora Dunn, who are kidnapping animals for their circus. When they see a TV news story about Bud's exploits at a Knicks game, they decide they must have him, and endeavor to capture him throughout the balance of film. They are finally successful just as the Timberwolves advance to the state finals. With Buddy missing, the team must start the game without him.

The obvious reason for creating Air Bud was the dog's propensity for basketball. A lame idea at best, but mildly entertaining. He would bounce the ball off his nose into the basket, and at the end of that film, there is a notice that no camera tricks were used. Great. But unfortunately, that pooch has gone to the great kennel in the sky. In this film, six different animals are used, and they're not doing anything any dog can't do with a partially deflated football. There are a few stock shots of him jumping in the air and catching the ball, shot from below in slow motion, and lots of footage of him running with the ball in his mouth while kids in uniforms fall like bowling pins. But this is not exactly cinematic magic.

The so-called comic relief provided by the Russian couple is nothing but trite slapstick, using every unfunny trick in the book. Slightly more successful at humor are Tim Conway and Dick Martin, in cameo roles as the announcers at the state finals. But come on. Aren't we just being a little too greedy here? What's more, Air Bud: The Next Generation is scheduled for release in 1999. What'll it be, golf this time? **½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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