“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is one of those films that makes you wonder “am I doing the right thing?” by seeing it. During, you may ponder- “what… the… hell…” Afterwards, it leaves one with the numb feeling of still having encountered something unexpectedly less terrible than it might have been. A few laughs and unexpected moments, but distinctly tacky at the same time. Kind of like a cousin’s wedding who has a hot-mess relationship, but at least you got to see some people take a header into the cake along the way.
I am a solid fan of many entries into the Warner Bros. Pictures pantheon, but what I am not big into is basketball. Getting through an opening 20 minutes, which is a love letter to the glory that is LeBron James, was tough. If anyone goes into watching “Space Jam” with drinking game rules including a shot each time they shower James with accolades or refer to him as King James, you’ll be carried out in an alcoholic coma before the third reel.
There is elements of a genuinely interesting and heartfelt sports story in this mash-up marathon. LeBron is the overbearing parent who wants his sons to follow in his footsteps while younger son, Dom (played by Cedric Joe), is into sports, but only of the e-variety. Dom wants to go off to be a video game developer conference rather than a basketball camp, and thus the strife is set up that could be an interesting modern twist on parents and kids understanding new drives and ambitions.
But this is Space Jam, so something has to happen that throws our favorite Looney Tunes and humans into a basketball court together. Cue Don Cheadle as Warner Bros.’ (yes the movie studio) resident A.I., named Al-G. Rhythm (get it? Al-go-rhythm?), who wants to digitally scan LeBron and drop him into movies. When LeBron declines and bails on the pitch meeting, Al-G, decided to take matters into his own servers and zaps both LeBron and Dom into the virtual world. If you’re thinking this is sounding a lot like Disney’s original “Tron” and its antagonist, MCP, you’re not far off.
Al-G winds up challenging LeBron to a game of basketball, which if Al wins, LeBron has to stay forever in the computer world. If he wins, he gets to go free. LeBron agrees and Al punts him off to pull together a dream team of players from anywhere in the Warner Bros.’ universe of characters. Starting in Looney Tunes’ world, LeBron comes across Bugs Bunny, who is now the sole individual left in Tune-world (Al-G having disbanded the troops previously across the WB universe). LeBron has the right idea – Superman, King Kong, Trinity (from “The Matrix“), and others. But Bugs has his own ideas so they set out to get the Tunes’ band back together.
In the end, it winds up being a game for far higher stakes than had first been described, so the fight is on. Now the point that makes the film the most fun is that there are so many properties to be spotted in this film that it makes “Ready Player One” utterly pale by comparison. From “Casablanca” to “Wizard of Oz,” from “Clockwork Orange” to “Joker,” and literally all points in between. There are many scenes that are utterly glossed over by the viewer because you’re far more interested to see what all is going on in the background than the dialogue going on between the foreground characters.
There’s any number of funny moments between characters, but it all feels a bit of a disjointed mess of abject idol worshipping of LeBron throughout the film (it gets tedious after the first 5 minutes of the film, so by the 2 hour mark it’s really old), a kid in the candy store feel of a director trying to see how many different films and series they can cram on the screen at one time, a father-son story, a really terribly vapid excuse for a character in Al-G (which is no fault of Cheadle’s, the script is purely at fault), and it feeling foremost like an more in-your-face infomercial for Warner Bros., E3’s game coder camp, and LeBron himself. It’s that infomercial feeling that permeates the film so much that it feels a bit smarmy. If that had been tampered down a bit, the audience would feel more like they were along for a more purely entertaining ride.
It’s not a bad film, though it could have been tuned to be far better. It doesn’t really drag, and there are moments that are definitely worth seeing it at least once. Most notably when Bugs and LeBron are on their quest to find the other Tunes, they are all found embedded in original footage of other films. You never really knew you needed to see Wile E. Coyote in the role of a “Mad Max: Fury Road” war boy and spraying his muzzle with chrome paint while holding a sign declaring, “WITNESS ME!” until the scene is actually in your face. That, by itself, is worth spending a few hours taking a warm bath blending Looney Tunes characters in some classic WB films. Just try to not be bothered too much by the slight layer of soapy mess that is left after the bath.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is rated PG for Some Language and Some Cartoon Violence. It hits HBO Max and theaters on July 16th, 2021.