A movie about a wrestling dog with a monkey for a coach stole Calum Henderson's time - and his heart.

Is there a name for the strange phenomenon whereby every time you go on Netflix you inevitably, almost involuntarily, end up watching the dumbest thing you can find? What about a cure for it? I've just watched a movie about a wrestling dog.

I did think this might be the day I finally watched beyond the first 10 minutes of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, or maybe managed to finish Whit Stillman's Metropolitan without falling asleep half way through. But as always some mysterious force, deep and instinctive, caused me to keep scrolling past the 'Keep watching' section, past 'Critically acclaimed movies', through 'International movies', all the way to the depths of 'Movies about sport', and then past the good movies about sport. This is where I found Russell Madness.

"It's not the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog. Especially if he has a monkey for a coach." The short synopses on Netflix are a strange art form. Some poor wretch has had to condense the essence of hundreds of movies and TV shows down to around 100 characters a pop, less than a tweet, often with unsurprisingly hackneyed results.

This one starts out in such a fashion - big deal, a wrestling dog, who cares - but that second sentence, so offhand and casual, is a real gamechanger. I wanted to know more about this monkey.

Advertisement

But first, the dog. What a hopeless case he is. The runt of the litter, he's destined for the pound if nobody takes him home from the pet shop. But who'd want to? The fact that he chronically pees everywhere is a particularly dark character trait, probably reason enough to have him put down. And who in their right mind would want anything to do with a Jack Russell with such a crushingly unimaginative name as 'Russell'?

He really is the worst. I don't know if it's his high, wimpy voice (of course, he can talk) or just his general air of patheticness, but I can't stand the guy. Really, I should just stop watching, but I'm dragged along by my low-level intrigue in the monkey coach. He's cool - he wears a tracksuit and a little fedora. He's the only one who has the faintest clue how to run the down-on-its-luck wrestling operation which has just been inherited by the young Ferraro family, who need to make a profit before they can sell it on. His name is Hunk.

Things look very grim for the Ferraros and Hunk and their horrible second-rate wrestling outfit. But then Russell, who has escaped from the pet shop, shows up and in an act of inexplicable violence strangles a wrestler - it is vaguely implied, to death - in the middle of the ring. How? Why? Nobody knows, but quite rightly the footage goes viral. Hunk asks Russell to become a full-time wrestler. Russell says the best line in the whole movie: "I'm not a large man, I'm a small dog." Put that on the poster.

But become a wrestler he does. There's a lovely montage - the montages are reliably the best parts of these kinds of movies - where the monkey rides a tiny Segway and the dog does yoga. Then there's a real dreadful piece of work wrestler called Helix Munro who talks boringly and at length about his "gravitas" and uses a dog whistle to do a number on Russell. Really awful stuff.

Eventually I find myself warming to Russell, rooting for him to wreak his revenge on Helix 'The Hammer' Munro. I have by this point largely come to terms with my decision to choose this over one of the hundreds of more artful, more cerebral movies or TV shows I could have spent this time watching, but now probably never will.

The outfit responsible for Russell Madness is called Air Bud Entertainment - the same people who made the movie about the dog playing basketball. They've made a full-time business making movies where animals play human sports. That's quite impressive.

As the credits roll, one of their other titles comes up as a suggestion for what to watch next. My heart sinks with the sudden sense of wasted opportunity - I could have spent the last hour and a half watching MVP2: Most Vertical Primate, about a chimpanzee who knows how to skateboard.

* What's the dumbest thing you've watched on Netflix? Post your comments below.

Advertisement