Guess it wasn’t quite time to slam.
You can’t really expect too much in a movie that stars a basketball player and an 81-year-old wise-cracking rabbit. Though if you do that, you still might be just a tad disappointed in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
For whatever reason, the 1996 “Space Jam,” which starred basketball great Michael Jordan connected to the children of that era, myself included. It wasn’t good, but it was fun and had Bill Murray and a banging soundtrack that included the bop by Quad City DJs aptly named “Space Jam.”
In this new kind-of sequel, we have another basketball great in LeBron James, who teams up with our favorite Looney Tunes characters for yet another showdown on the court. This time the stakes are higher and more personal for the basketball player in question.
James plays a fictionalized version of himself — a stern professional who apparently decided to never have fun in order to be the best player he could be. In the movie he’s also a family man with a wife and four kids including his 12-year-old coding whiz-kid Dom (Cedric Joe), who creates his own basketball video game. LeBron, as in reality, is the best player in the field and an anthropomorphized algorithm named, rather uninspiringly, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), who was created by Warner Bros. to churn out a seemingly mindless stream of content, wants James on his team.
When the WB execs bring King James into the fold and use his image in just about every single WB intellectual property they can think of, LeBron calls it one of the worst ideas he’s ever heard.
Angered, Rhythm decides to essentially kidnap Dom and LeBron and bring them into the WB Serververse, where all intellectual property (IP) exists each in their own world within the computer banks at the studio. He challenges LeBron to a basketball game, and sends him out to gather a team in the verse, while buddying up with Dom in the process (it feels a lot like “Hook” in that way).
LeBron lands in Tune World. Bugs Bunny is the only toon left after Rhythm convinced the others to leave and explore other IP worlds in the Serververse. Bugs sees the basketball game as an opportunity to get the gang back together, assembling the old Tune Squad again, and LeBron struggles to make an actual team out of the toons.
The plot is nothing spectacularly new and the movie tries to make up for it by shoving just about every Warner Bros. IP into our faces. So much so that the entire movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter if they left out some of the references. Granted not that all of them are bad. One short moment where we see Yosemite Sam integrated into Rick’s Bar from “Casablanca” actually made me guffaw when Ingrid Bergman said the “Play it, Sam” line.
Unfortunately, most of the jokes are written to be so timely that even on the movie’s release, they’re now old references that feel incredibly forced coming out of the bill of Daffy Duck or under the boozy influence of Granny.
James seems to be taking the role as seriously as one can in this kind of movie without going too far down the “serious actor” route, and Cheadle seems to be having fun. And there are some deeper themes than you’d expect in a Looney Tunes movie, such as being true to yourself and self-sacrifice.
There are some fun moments and callbacks to the first “Space Jam” that will keep parents engaged slightly and kids entertained, but it’s not really clear who exactly this movie was made for: is it the elder millennials, or their children? With so many references that only the adults would understand mixed with the jokes based on memes, things get bogged down, and I found myself ignoring the actual scene at hand and scanning the crowd in the basketball game scenes to see all the Easter eggs. Don’t put a bargain brand Voldemort behind Don Cheadle and expect my attention not to drift.
The biggest downfall is the main joke: that there is an evil algorithm making all decisions based off of previous intellectual property and there are no original ideas anymore. But this meta-joke and the rest of the story don’t have the teeth of brilliant Looney Tunes past, making this “Space Jam” fall short of a slam dunk.