Each week, Dan McQuade reviews a baseball movie. This week in Cinema Varitek: The 2002 straight-to-video Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, starring Caitlin Wachs, Kevin Zegers, Patrick Cranshaw, Chantal Strand, Richard Karn and five dogs (Shaq, Dakota, Shooter, Sniper, Tango), directed by Robert Vince, screenplay by four freaking people: Sara Sutton, Stephanie Isherwood, Anne Vince and Anna McRoberts.
Perhaps the worst genre of film ever conceived is children's sports movie. The plot is almost always aped from Bad News Bears: Team of losers gets together and wins (or loses) the big game, while the bullies learn valuable lessons in the process. Of course, our children who watch these films also learn the valuable lesson of cheating.
The good guys invariably cheat to win in every kids' sports movie. Ladybugs? Dressing up the kid from Neverending Story II as a girl to reach the finals Mighty Ducks 2? Lassoing an opposing player, at the Junior Olympics no less. Little Giants? Using flatulence as a weapon. Angels in the Outfield? Using angels as a weapon. The Big Green? Don't kid me, nobody's ever seen that movie. In Racing Stripes, a whole team of characters (pigs, goats, cartoon flies voiced by David Spade) conspires and cheats to help a zebra win the Kentucky Derby.
Maybe the worst offender, though, is the Air Bud series, which teaches children if you aren't good enough to win, you should find a dog to play for your team. In Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, the fourth film in the original five-movie Air Bud series, Buddy plays for a junior high baseball team, despite not attending the school in question.
Seventh Inning Fetch actually doesn't mention baseball until exactly 23 minutes into the movie, though. The opening of the film details the movie's subplot: Two mad scientists are attempting to kidnap Air Bud and his puppies (a different set of puppies than the talking ones in the Air Buddies spinoff series -- confusing, I know!). The mad scientist duo -- who take their cues from Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci's Home Alone villains, which should tell you horrid this film is -- wants Buddy and his puppies so they can extract the "super sports gene" and sell it to athletes.
Oh, but Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch has other interwoven subplots as well. They're surprisingly disgusting: Young Andrea (Caitlin Wachs) is so sad when her brother Josh (Kevin Zegers, from the in-theater Air Bud movies) goes to college she chases him down on her bike and nearly sacrifices Buddy in order to stop his bus to say goodbye. Andrea and her friend Tammy (Chantal Strand, who's in all three direct-to-video Air Bud movies) is also nervous about going to junior high! Also, Blue from Old School (the late Patrick Cranshaw, also a three-time Air Bud vet) is in this movie as Sheriff Bob. You're my boy, Bob!
The movie doesn't even mention baseball until exactly 23 minutes in, when, while Andrea and Tammy search for an extracurricular, Tammy suddenly says, "That's it! Baseball!" Brilliant exposition and foreshadowing. The two characters do eventually try out for the baseball team -- strangely, coed fall baseball -- and while Tammy is the best player on the team, Andrea makes errors on every play at practice. Tammy explains to the coach the two are BFF ("Best friends forever," she says) and Andrea must make the team, too. So she does! Lesson to kids: If you can't make the team by yourself, force your way on.
The first pitch of the baseball season is a foul pop, and Tammy does a little shout out to another baseball movie with dogs in it while making the catch.
Yes, she does the Geena Davis split from A League of Their Own on the first pitch of the baseball season. She even gets on the cover of the movie's version of Life magazine!
The rest of the movie progresses as you'd expect: Tammy gets hurt, Andrea comes in and blows the game (in a hilariously unrealistic play where she somehow comes in from right field to collide with a pop-up on the pitchers' mound) and several games after that as well. But she practices with Air Bud -- her mom (Cynthia Stevenson, who was in 80 percent of the original Air Bud franchise) and stepdad (Richard Karn, aka Al Borland) are criminally neglectful parents -- and eventually gets better. After the team's pitcher is injured, Andrea comes in to pitch and Air Bud is inserted at first base. This is a dog we do not see attend a class in junior high, and yet he's put on the school's team even though cuts were made. There were only about 10-12 players at baseball tryouts, anyway; why even make cuts?
Now to answer the question you've been wondering: How the hell does the dog bat? It's simple, really; he holds the bat in his mouth, looks away from the pitcher and swings. Really.
Andrea and Air Bud cheat their way to the finals against the defending champions, the Baboons. (When the announcer says things like, "What a great play by that Baboon third baseman," I can only imagine that's audio taken directly from Ed.) Meanwhile, dog after dog of Air Bud's puppies (including Shooter, who plays basketball nearly 24 hours a day, and a character I believe named "Dank Bud") are kidnapped by our horrible mad scientist crew.
On the day of the big game, Air Bud himself is kidnapped. Tammy (now suddenly healed) and Andrea chase the mad scientists, free Air Bud and his puppies and capture the mad scientists for the incompetent sheriff. (You're still my boy, Blue!) While this is going on, the baseball game starts despite two missing children (and five missing dogs!). I know this movie predates the AMBER Alert, but this is a bit much. The parents are among most soulless movie characters in any film, as they simply watch the game cheerfully. One of them actually says, "I wonder where Andrea is. She wouldn't forget the game." This is Hannibal Lector-level evil here.
Tammy, Andrea and Air Bud make it back just after the seventh inning stretch, which for some reason is done before the seventh inning. They, of course, rally from a 7-1 deficit to win, 8-7, on a 2-run inside-the-park homer by Tammy. (I would have scored it a single and two or three errors, but that's just me.) Air Bud began the 2-out rally with an infield single in the ninth, but a closer look at the replay shows something interesting:
That ball's in the first baseman's glove and Air Bud is not at first base yet. He's out. The Baboons will always be the real champion of the fourth Air Bud movie to me.
There's a lot that I'm glossing over: An umpire with the incorrect name of Funny Ump, an announcer-slash-mailman, a scene with a dog who works at a barbershop, some really bad physical comedy from Richard Karn, what appears to be stock footage of a raccoon apparently named Rocky and the really uncomfortable implication Andrea is sleeping with her brother. Oh, and in the movie's epilogue, Air Bud wins World Series MVP!
Air Bud gets the final out of the World Series, so I can only imagine there was a messy Doug Mientkiewicz-style controversy with management over ownership of that baseball. Perhaps that will be covered in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch 2: Dog Bowl Era.
Next week: A League of Their Own.