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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Russell Madness (Blu-ray)
Russell Madness (Blu-ray)
Fox // PG // March 10, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Robert Vince's Russell Madness (2015) insists that "The Strongest Tag Team is Family", and....nope, I'm gonna go with The Road Warriors. This lukewarm attempt at adapting the world of pro wrestling into lightweight, dog-centric family entertainment is a total misfire from start to finish, never approaching even the modest heights of what the prestigious Air Bud series has served up since 1997. This is the fifteenth movie in the franchise, folks. Chew on that for a moment, and remember that Russell Madness features a dog peeing in a kid's face before the 90-second mark.

Our story goes like this: the vanilla Ferraro family (Nate, Colleen, and young Max and Lena) just moved back to Portland after inheriting their late Uncle Maximiliano's wrestling business, complete with dilapidated arena and 80s-era wardrobe collection. For whatever reason, a talking monkey named Hunk (voiced by Will Sasso) still lives there and comes to the aid of pound-bound Russell (voiced by Sean Giambrone), our pee-happy pup who just wants a family of his own. After the Ferraros relaunch their wrestling company, Russell displays his CGI-assisted wrestling ability to the delight of the crowd and quickly becomes a YouTube sensation. Soon enough, he's a top-billed face and attracts the eye of Mick Vaughn (John Ratzenberger), the Vince McMahon-like head of the monopolizing Wrestlers United Federation (get it?), and Ferraro Wrestling's future may depend on their popular pooch shaking hands with the devil.

Russell Madness was written by four human beings, and it's got a virtual checklist of everything I despise about most family movies. Flat, uninspired characters. Ridiculous slapstick, usually directed towards toothless villains that were simply "asking for it". Gratuitous narration. Three more close-up shots of dogs peeing on faces. A couple of easy fart jokes (in the outtakes, at least). About six thousand horrible puns. If that weren't enough, Russell Madness has its finger completely off the pulse of pro wrestling, as its cartoonish characters are at least two decades removed from what you'd normally see on TV. I wasn't expecting much, of course: maybe a few in-jokes from a writer who's actually seen recent episodes of Smackdown or even a few vintage ECW clips. If Russell delivered just one top rope brainbuster? DVD Talk Collector Series, easy. Instead, former WWE star John Morrison (as "The Hammer") has to sell invisible moves like this guy, and the genre as a whole moves down another notch in my book.

This appears to be a straight-to-video production, and rightfully so: Russell Madness has the flat look and feel of a compromised, paint-by-numbers production from start to finish, and whoever approved the finished product should probably be booked against Big Van Vader. The Blu-ray/DVD arrives courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment.

Star rating breakdown: One-quarter point for landing three jokes in 92 minutes, another for the animal wrangling, half a point for John Morrison's salesmanship, and one more for little Max getting suplexed by a grown man.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in what appears to be its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio (again, I'm assuming this is a straight-to-video production), Russell Madness looks good for the most part. This is a fairly low-budget affair and the resulting digital image is sporadically flat and lifeless in mid-range shots, though close-ups and background details hold up nicely more often than not. Textures look a little waxy, while shadow detail and black levels tend to fluctuate during scenes with artificial light. I'll admit that the colors look great for the most part, from the vivid hues of costumed wrestlers to the earthy tones of the restored arena. No major digital imperfections could be spotted along the way, aside from occasional banding and interlacing (which may very well be source material issues, to be honest).


DISCLAIMER: These compressed screen captures are taken from the DVD edition and do not represent the Blu-ray's 1080p resolution.

The default DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio presentation carries its own weight, especially during the in-ring sequences. Panning effects and low end are limited but there's a decent amount of rear channel activity, whether it's the original score, crowd noise, or ambient background effects. While it's not an overly ambitious mix, dialogue is crisp and everything else falls in line with your average "family film" presentation, so I can't really complain. A Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dub is also included, as well as optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic interface features a clean layout, easy navigation, and a few pre-menu advertisements, logos, and warnings. This one-disc package is housed in a dual-hubbed "eco-friendly" keepcase and includes a matching slipcover, colorful disc artwork, and a Digital Copy redemption slip. Make a paper airplane out of it, or an origami swan.

Bonus Features

With the right approach, a solid batch of extras might have made this one worth a rental...but nope. All we get is a lame Gag Reel (2:34) of on-set goofing and purposely flubbed lines from the animals, as well as a completely unrelated "Five Little Monkeys" Sing-Along starring Hunk (2:06) and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette, "Raising the Woof: Training Russell" (5:07). Only the latter goes into any modest detail about the actual filmmaking process and has a few fun moments, but it's mostly just another half-jokey affair that rarely hits the mark overall.

Final Thoughts

At the risk of sounding like a complete lunatic, Russell Madness actually had a shot at tailoring the colorful world of pro wrestling into a fun, entertaining family production...but almost every opportunity is squandered here, resulting in a completely flat and lifeless affair that offers nothing to viewers beyond their single digits (and even that's pushing it). The acting is Z-grade Disney Channel bad, the villains feel toothless and non-threatening, and at least 90% of the joke attempts are complete stinkers that didn't even warrant a genuine (or even ironic) chuckle out of yours truly. Heck, my daughter's almost five and I'm kind of embarrassed to show it to her. Luckily, Fox's lightweight Blu-ray/DVD package doesn't exactly make this a tough decision: the A/V presentation is decent enough, but the extras are either surface level or painfully tongue-in-cheek. Russell Madness is maybe, maybe worth a rental if your kids seem into the concept, but this is such a missed opportunity that it's barely even worth considering. Skip It.


Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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