I’ve always been amazed that 1996’s “Space Jam” became such a fixture in pop culture. Besides a great soundtrack, it’s a rather awful movie. MJ can ball, but he can’t act and the plot is little more than a celebration of Jordan’s talent. I’ve continued to wonder who the target audience of these movies are. Are there that many kids who are equally interested in Looney Tunes and the NBA? There must be because a quarter-century after the original we have a standalone sequel for a new generation.
The beginning of the movie kicks off the same as the original. We see our young hero playing basketball and dreaming of the future. But in young LeBron’s case, his skill is highlighted as a result of focus and “putting in the work.” This no-time-for-fun ethic is drummed into him by his couch after missing what would have been the winning shot. It’s an interesting change in tone from the original that ends up being the theme for the entire movie.
As an adult, LeBron tries to instill this same work ethic in his two sons. The oldest son, Darius (Ceyair J Wright), seems to love basketball as much as his father, but the younger son, Dom (Cedric Joe), is more passionate about game design. In fact, he’s almost completed his first game which bears more than a passing resemblance to NBA Jams. Dom excitedly shows the game to his dad, but LeBron has trouble accepting the creative liberties taken. “Power-Ups?? Style Points??” In an effort to bond with his son LeBron invites him to a meeting with Warner Brothers the following day.
The meeting is a pitch to make LeBron a staple of the WB media behemoth. A bitter computer algorithm has devised a plan to digitize LeBron so they can use a CGI version of him in any and all of their upcoming movies. The algorithm, whose name is Al G. Rythm and personified by Don Cheadle, does not take LeBron’s blunt rejection well. Using a few pages ripped from the TRON script, Dom and LeBron soon find themselves zapped into the WB “Serververse” and challenged to a video game that will determine their very survival.
LeBron’s first stop in the bizarre Serververse is Tuneworld where he encounters a very lonely Bugs Bunny. Apparently, all the other Looney Tunes have relocated to other worlds within this cinematic cyberspace. What follows is a very bizarre yet undeniably entertaining journey through the greatest hits of WB media. Some scenes are altered clips from movies such as “The Matrix”, “Fury Road”, and even “Casablanca.” Other scenes are created just for this movie and reference everything from Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and the beloved DC animated series from the late 90s. This odd media montage is fun but dripping with meta irony. LeBron in the film rejected the very concept which he is now partaking in. In the final act, the movie doubles down on this irony by filling the game audience with a myriad of very famous characters. Characters that WB currently owns the rights to, but none of them are being portrayed by the original actors. (Some aren’t alive anymore.)
The rest of the movie proceeds exactly as one would expect it to. Lots of silliness, a few great gags, an important character makes a major sacrifice, and everyone learns a lesson. It does run a bit too long, due to all the time setting up the story in the first act, but generally runs at a brisk pace. Besides an exceptional cameo gag near the end, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” doesn’t have very many surprises. It’s exactly what you’d expect, a visual treat that the entire family can mildly enjoy.
Space Jam: A New Legacy