Title: Space Jam: A New Legacy
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, and Zendaya
Movie length: 1 hour 55 minutes
Given the fact that Space Jam is a reboot/sequel to a movie I never saw starring an NBA player I am ambivalent about, A New Legacy pleasantly surprised me. Some background to give you context for this review. First, I never saw 1996’s Space Jam because I really didn’t like Michael Jordan. Second, I also never really was into the Looney Tunes. They just seemed kind of pointlessly mean and outdated. Third, I am conflicted about LeBron James, who steps into the Michael Jordan role here. He’s not a bad guy, but being from Ohio it’s been kind of a rollercoaster to root for, then against, then for him. And now that he’s with the Lakers I’m kind of just over it. Throw all of this into the mix and I generally wasn’t excited to see this movie, which seemed like an answer to a question nobody asked.
The original Space Jam got its name because Jordan and the Looney Tunes teamed up to play basketball against aliens. A New Legacy attempts to modernize (?) the story by having LeBron get sucked into a computer and play inside a video game…or something. This is my first problem with this Space Jam – it tries too hard to be ‘modern.’ Case in point, for some reason, Porky Pig has a rap sequence. It makes so little sense that the movie itself comments on that fact and it fails to deliver the laughs the writers clearly expected it to get.
This movie builds its big game around the relationship between LeBron and his son, who is more into designing video games than excelling at basketball. While the plot line checks all of the boxes that you’d expect, it feels strange to have LeBron James play himself but have a fictional family (complete with different names) played by actors. Maybe it’s just me, but given the press Bronny (James’ real son) receives, it was hard to fully get into the fake family, especially after the opening credits walk through LeBron’s real career progression to introduce us to him. Side note: If you don’t know who LeBron James is, you must really love the Looney Tunes to see this movie. The good news for you is, pretty much all of your favorites are here, and most of them are given their requisite big ‘moment’ that every sports movie provides.
On the positive side, Space Jam doesn’t take itself too seriously. It drops plenty of winking nods to how ridiculous it is (the best being LeBron delivering a line about how he should stick to basketball and not try acting). It also pulls some gentle ribbing at LeBron’s past, so it’s nice to see him being willing to poke fun at himself. In fact, LeBron is a pleasant surprise in this film. No, he’s not the best actor. But he’s passable and has just enough charisma to carry the film as far as it can go. The Tunes’ voices are great approximations of the voices I remember from the classic cartoons. Sadly, the one performance I did not care for was from the most accomplished actor in the movie – Don Cheadle’s bad guy was simply way too over the top for me.
The best part of the movie is the film’s use of the vast Warner Brothers Catalogue, first by inserting the cartoon characters into some classic movies and then by dropping a million cameos into the stands at the basketball game. There are a ton of easter eggs in the audience. I also enjoyed the use of NBA and WNBA stars.
I have to give the movie a B to B- grade. If you like the Looney Tunes, LeBron James, or are a basketball fanatic who is ok with the movie being more ‘NBA Jam’ than ‘NBA 2K‘ you will like this movie. It’s family friendly and has a decent (if often used) message. It just seemed a bit flat to me, failing to reach the frenetic energy of what I consider to be the pinnacle live action/animation mash up, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? With that said, it exceeded my low expectations and was an enjoyable enough way to pass 1 hour and 55 minutes (there is no end credits scene), so I am grading it on a curve.
Check out my audio review of the movie here: https://anchor.fm/darren-shulman/embed/episodes/Space-Jam-New-Legacy-Review-e14lipd/a-a5tqa9p
Space Jam: A New Legacy is now in theaters as well as on HBO Max.
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