Review: Flurry of nostalgia can't save 'Space Jam: A New Legacy'
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Essentially a two hour commercial for the Warner Bros. conglomerate, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” takes corporate synergy and product placement to new levels. Whereas the 1996 Micheal Jordan led “Space Jam” (which I have a fondness for) was about the fundamentals of basketball and teamwork, “A New Legacy” exists to boast a wealth of studio IP. Sure, it’s comical watching Looney Tunes insert themselves into films like “The Matrix,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Austin Powers,” but it’s a one note joke that likely won’t make any sense to children. Malcolm D. Lee’s sequel, which has Miami Heat superstar LeBron James taking over the Jordan role, gets high on its own supply. In an era where studios are stuck greenlighting known quantities (superheroes and reboots), “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is an egregious metaphor for why that’s a bad thing.
“A New Legacy” gets off to a great start, turning into a mini-origin tale for what would become LeBron James’ insane career, probably the best player since Jordan to hold a basketball, before spiraling into green screen tomfoolery. Here’s he’s not throwing hoops, but a family man stuck in a rut when it’s found out youngest son, Dom (Cedric Joe) doesn’t want to follow in his illustrious footsteps and would rather program code for video games; his latest creation, a super fluid spin on basketball called “Domball” where you can get triple points for style and “poseterize” an opponent by dunking on them is nearly finished.
This lays the foundation for the ensuing conflict, where the father/son dynamic is put to the ultimate test after James and Dom, upon leaving a meeting with Warner Bros. executives about a potential movie partnership, are sucked into the “Warner Servererse.” Once inside, a living manifestation called, you guessed it, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle - going through a variety of motions in an easily throwaway role) makes an ultimatum with James: play a basketball tournament and save his son, or stay trapped within the Serververse for eternity. It took six screenwriters to come up with the convoluted concept, which is basically a glorified bid to show off what HBO Max offers (not ironically where most people will probably see the film).
Everything from “Game of Thrones,” “Harry Potter” to DC Comics and “The Wizard of Oz,” are given a shout-out as James traverses through this odd cinematic universe recruiting a team for the tournament. He eventually lands in Tune World as a traditional 2D, hand-drawn cartoon alongside Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Lola Bunny, Porky Pig, and the rest of the gang, which is the best stretch in “A New Legacy,” because up until that point, the film was already feeling cartoonish. Meanwhile Al G. Rhythm is putting the manipulative moves on Dom, who feels jaded from his dad, coxing him into an ultimate showdown reminiscent of the 1996 original: Toon Squad vs. Goon Squad.
By the time we get into the meat and potatoes of the actual logistics of playing basketball, or Dom’s twisty, digitize version of it, in the tournament, which is populated with all types of spectators from the Warner Bros. universe (a quick glance will yield a peak at the entire “Scooby Doo” gang, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, King Kong, and...Pennywise the Dancing Clown?) The amount of CGI spilling on screen, including the hypercaffeinated game itself, gave this viewer a bad case of whiplash.
The overall message of family uniting to find common ground and following your dreams is lost in a smorgasbord of video game graphics and sound effects. And not that these movies are made as star vehicles for the athletes who headline them, but James reaches for certain emotional highs that never land. Seeing beloved Looney Tunes characters on the big screen isn’t enough to soothe over the film’s rough patches. There’s a couple fun cameos and countless jokes about James’ career that’ll enagage his fans, but for a movie set on carving out a “New Legacy,” it ends up tarnishing what came before.
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY opens in theaters and on HBO Max, Friday, July 16th