Film & TV

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ is a Shameless Cash Grab

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Who’s the best basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James?

This question has fueled intense debates between friends, family and sports commentators. Jordan fans will quickly go to his six NBA championships, while James enthusiasts will highlight the fact that he’s the only player to ever be voted as NBA Finals MVP for three separate teams. With James’ latest venture into the movies, sports fans will have another aspect of the superstars’ legacies to analyze: who has the better “Space Jam?” 

The answer is easy — Michael Jordan. “Space Jam” was not a masterpiece, but it had charm and self-referential humor that propelled it to becoming a cult classic, even if Jordan’s performance is downright bad. A short film featuring one of the most recognizable celebrities on the planet with beloved cartoon characters, Jordan’s debut was a movie made for its time. Both him and the Looney Tunes were at the height of their powers. 

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is nothing like its predecessor. In fact, it’s not even a movie — it’s two hours of Warner Brothers propaganda filled with lazy jokes and more CGI than James Cameron would ever think to use. 

James (“Trainwreck,” “Smallfoot”) plays a fictionalized version of his larger-than-life persona. He wants his on-screen children, Dom (Cedric Joe) and Darius (Ceyair J. Wright), to follow in his footsteps as a basketball player, something Dom has no interest in. Dom is a video game designer and is ecstatic when he gets to visit the Warner Brothers’ “serververse” run by a villainous A.I. named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle).

Both father and son are captured by Al and can only be freed if James beats Al’s vaunted basketball team. James assembles a revamped Tune Squad consisting of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Lola Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn and others while encountering the many, many worlds of the Warner Brothers collection. 

Warner Brothers has an illustrious catalog from old Hollywood classics to DC superheroes and everything in between. A movie about these various worlds colliding sounds interesting in the right hands — and the hands behind this film could not be any further. 

There are a plethora of cameos and references from these movies and not a single one works. It feels cringeworthy and an act of blatant product placement by the studio to advertise their film collection. The climactic basketball game (almost an hourlong) has an audience with White Walkers, Pennywise, Gollum, Harry Potter and plenty more distracting additions. 

It apparently wasn’t enough for the corporate executives to sell out on recent pop culture; they felt the need to besmirch — arguably — the greatest movie of all time: the 1942 classic “Casablanca.” Rick Blaine doesn’t deserve this nor do the viewers. 

It would be easy to blame director Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man,” “Girls Trip”) for this dreadful experience, although he’s only the replacement director. The original filmmaker, Terrance Nance (“Women Who Kill,” “The Burial of Kojo”), left production due to creative differences with the studio and producers. This movie has Warner Brothers’ handprints all over it and it’s easy to see why Nance wanted to leave. No director wants to make a movie that’s only filmed on a green screen, especially when none of the CGI is done well.

James flashed his comedic chops in Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck” and was the best part about that movie. Apatow surrounded him with talented actors and a witty script that allowed him to be a scene-stealer. There’s nothing for James to work with here — he’s either animated or surrounded by CGI animals. His acting is stiff and one-note, and his fictionalized family fails to make any sort of substantial impact.

Cheadle (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Avengers: Endgame”) is a small ray of sunshine in a performance that’s over-the-top and self-aware — something this movie is not. The only takeaway from Zendaya’s (“Euphoria,” “Malcolm & Marie”) performance as Lola Bunny is she’s having fun and would be a great choice for the voice of the next Disney princess. 

There are movies that are exclusively made for children, others exclusively made for adults and some transcendent enough to entertain all age groups —  this film is made for no one. Adults will find this annoying and never-ending. Children may laugh at the poorly written humor but all the pop cultural references will go over their heads. No kid is going to understand the “Play it, Sam” scene from “Casablanca” or the high-octane action sequences from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” 

Using old IP isn’t a blasphemous move — Steven Spielberg did a good job with it in “Ready Player One.” However, Warner Brothers doesn’t understand that old IP can’t be solely relied upon to make a good movie. They seem to forget prioritizing a good script, director, star cast and just about anyone or anything integral in making a coherent film.

This sequel is shameless and so is Warner Brothers. 

“Space Jam: A New Legacy,” rated PG, is now streaming on HBO Max and playing in theaters. 

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