DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    Richard Karn as PATRICK FRAMM
    Cynthia Stevenson as JACKIE FRAMM
    Slade Pearce as NOAH
    Holmes Osborne as SKELNICK
    Trevor Wright as GRIM
    Paul Rae as DENNING
    Christian Pikes as HENRY

    Rated PG
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Robert Vince
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After the success of “Air Bud,” a story of a mopey boy who finds a fast friend in a golden retriever who can play basketball, the sequels began. The first one was “Air Bud: Golden Receiver,” hit the theaters and switched the sport to football.

After this sequel, the further ones went directly to video. With each sequel, we hit a different sport. “Air Bud: World Pup” gave us a soccer-playing dog. “Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch” took us to the baseball diamond. And “Air Bud: Spikes Back” showed us a golden retriever that played volleyball.

The latest “Air Bud” sequel gives us all the sports wrapped into one without the aid of a catchy pun in the title. “Air Buddies” follows the puppies of Air Bud, each with their own personalities and own sport. They play basketball, football, volleyball, baseball and soccer. The personalities range from the hip-hop wannabe to the princess of the sport.

In this new story, Noah Framm’s golden retrievers Aid Bud and Molly are kidnapped by an evil animal poacher. He wants the famous sports dogs for himself. The golden retriever puppies bust out of their house to rescue their parents. However, when the incompetent henchmen realize that the puppies might be even more valuable than the parents, they face kidnapping as well.

The biggest difference in this film from others in the “Air Bud” arsenal is the fact that these puppies talk. It’s the first time we get into the heads of the dogs, and the variety of voices provide some fun moments for the kids watching the movie.

Where the original “Air Bud” was for an older audience, “Air Buddies” seems deliberately aimed younger. Much of the humor comes from the puppies themselves. For my kids, the greatest laughs came from the antics of Budderball, the chubby puppy who also has a little problem with gas (which, incidentally gave the film its PG rating). That’s a cheap laugh, I know, but it works for little kids.

The human cast does a decent job, although I think all of the actors realized they were playing second fiddle to the dogs. Richard Karn of “Home Improvement” plays the dad with Cynthia Stevenson playing the mom, and they do a decent job, although there’s a sense they’re making a mortgage payment with their acting fee.

The best performances from the human cast come from the bad guys. Holmes Osborne plays a great over-the-top animal poacher, and his henchmen Grim (Trevor Wright) and Denning (Paul Rae) give us some of the funniest moments of the film.

Directing this film is Robert Vince, who gave us “MVP: Most Valuable Primate” and all the associated sequels. Most recently, he directed “SpyMate,” which was another primate movie, this time about a chimpanzee super-sleuth.

Vince is making quite a career out of these direct-to-DVD sequels, and I don’t blame him for it. He doesn’t appear to have the chops to direct the next “Mission: Impossible” film, but he has a knack for delivering low-budget kids movies to the video store shelves.

The DVD comes with limited and predictable special features. There’s a featurette that tells you how to train your own dog to do some of the tricks from the film, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, interviews with the puppies and profiles on each Air Buddy. The features are rounded out with a music video from Jordan Pruitt. Finally, if you purchase this video with “The Fox and the Hound 2,” you can mail in for a plush of one of the Air Buddies.

The bottom line about “Air Buddies” and all associated Robert Vince sequels is that you have to know what you’re getting before you put any faith in it. This is nowhere near the level of “Air Bud,” but was anyone really expecting this? For a cute kids’ movie, especially for an audience that likes to watch puppies on television, it works.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Family-friendly widescreen (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French and Spanish language tracks. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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