Space Jam: A New Legacy (United States, 2021)July 18, 2021
25 years ago, Space Jam took the gimmicky concept of having the beloved stable of Looney Toons characters join forces with Michael Jordan for a basketball game. It made money, landing in 15th place for the year (between Star Trek: First Contact and Mr. Holland’s Opus), but none of the mooted sequels came to fruition. It has taken a quarter century to get LeBron James into Jordan’s sneakers and re-use the premise. None of the live-action personalities from the first film return but most of the cartoon facsimiles are more than happy to genuflect in the presence of King James.
It has been mentioned in many reviews that Space Jam: A New Legacy is overstuffed with promotions of Warner Brothers’ IP – everything from DC comics to Harry Potter to Casablanca to King Kong. If WB owns it, it’s there somewhere. In moderation, this sort of thing could have been cute. But it’s so constant and in-your-face that it becomes both overwhelming and tiresome. It doesn’t take long before A New Legacy feels more like a two-hour commercial for the entire WB catalog than a movie in its own right. There’s probably a great drinking game in there somewhere, though.
There are six credited screenwriters (one of whom is the brother of producer Ryan Coogler), which is an immediate sign of trouble. Typically, the more writers there are, the bigger mess the end product is and A New Legacy doesn’t defy that maxim. The story contrives to take a fictionalized version of LeBron James and, after putting him on a pedestal, injects him into a video game where he joins forces with the WB Looney Toons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Lola Bunny, etc.) against his video game designer son, Dom (Cedric Joe); the villainous artificial architect of the digital realm, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle); and their group of super-powered players, the Goon Squad. The Toons must play the Goons for high stakes. In the process, friendships are born, lessons are learned, and viewers may come to realize that two Space Jams are two too many.
Although A New Legacy runs at least a half hour too long and generates zero tension with the central “basketball” game, it’s not without its share of small pleasures. LeBron is considerably less awkward in a movie setting than either Michael Jordan or Shaq. There’s a delightful hand-drawn animated sequence that recalls the old Looney Toons cartoons. The DC comics “visit” is a lot of fun (and features both the Batman and Superman theme songs). And there’s a great Michael Jordan cameo (sort of).
Visually, there’s a lot of glitter and flashy computer-generated effects. The mixing of animated characters and real people looks a whole lot better than in 1996 when Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was the touchstone. But, for all that A New Legacy looks cool, it always seems lacking. There’s no heart or soul. The pat “messages” about the importance of family and following one’s own destiny are so trite that it’s impossible not to do an eyeroll. Throughout the entire movie, I was constantly wondering “what if?” as one intriguing possibility after another was bypassed resulting in the final question of “who cares?”
Malcolm D. Lee has made some amusing, low-budget comedies but he’s the wrong man for this job. (He came on board late in the proceedings, which might have something to do with it.) It’s hard not to wonder what A New Legacy might have been with the team of Lord & Miller on board. As for all those classic Warner Brothers cartoon characters who are misused as décor in a pean to the NBA’s most marketable star, this is a sad testament to their current popularity. In trying to make them relevant for a 2020s audience, the filmmakers have illustrated that some things are best left hermetically sealed in the past. Those who love Bugs can revisit all the old shorts where his voice was provided by Mel Blanc (rather than Jeff Bergman, who admittedly does a passable Blanc imitation) and revel in the character when he was at the height of his popularity rather than enduring the experience of watching him play a second, out-of-tune fiddle to King James.
Space Jam: A New Legacy (United States, 2021)
Cast: LeBron James, Eric Bauza, Jeff Bergman, Harper Leight Alexander, Ceyair J. Wright, Sonequa Martin-Green, Khris Davis, Cedric Joe, Don Cheadle, Zendaya
Screenplay: Juel Taylor & Tony Rettenmaier & Keenan Coogler & Terence Nance and Jess Gordon and Celeste Ballard
Cinematography: Salvatore Totino
Music: Kris Bowers
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers/HBOMax
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