Twenty-five years after Michael Jordan (and Bill Murray!) took to the court to help Bugs and company, Lebron James gets suckered into his own no-rules basketball game.
Space Jame: A New Legacy
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Screenplay by Juel Taylor & Tony Rettenmaier & Keenan Coogler & Terrence Nance and Jesse Gordon and Celeste Ballard
Script by Juel Taylor & Tony Rettenmaier & Keenan Coogler & Terrence Nance
With the weekend weather alternating between too hot and too rainy to take the kids out to the playground, firing up HBO Max to watch the new Space Jam flick seemed like a good idea. We had just introduced the kids to some of the more modern Looney Tunes on the streaming service and they seemed to like it. As a fan of the original 1996 film, I thought Space Jam: A New Legacy would be an easy win. It took the kids a little while to get into it, but once the big game started at the end of the film, they were pretty well wrapped up in the movie and excited to see what happened.
Having not seen the original Space Jam in a long time – I think the last time I watched it all the way through, I was still in high school – probably helped my enjoyment of A New Legacy. Yes, there’s still some nostalgia for a fun kids flick from the 1990s, but it wasn’t overwhelming. All I was really hoping for was some classic Looney Tunes situations and a big, over-the-top high-stakes basketball game. The movie certainly delivered on that point.
Instead of Michael Jordan joining Bugs Bunny and the gang for a game against the Monstars with the fate of the world in the balance, Lebron James’ story is a bit more personal. His 12-year-old son, Dom, created a new basketball game app, but King James just wants his son to focus on his hoops skills, thinking that app design and computer science is a waste of time. Lebron has clearly led a sheltered life filled with nothing but basketball – and a little bit of Bugs Bunny – since he was a kid. The movie hints at this in the opening scene, as young Lebron’s friend gives him a Game Boy with Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle cartridge inside.
Instead of focusing on the basketball game, he’s playing the Game Boy and he ends up missing the game-winning shot. His coach lectures him after the game, leading Lebron to eat, drink and sleep basketball for the rest of his life and pushing his kids to learn the fundamentals the same way.
Dom’s basketball game – which reminded me a lot of the classic arcade game NBA Jam – ends up being co-opted by a Warner Bros. computer algorithm that executives use to pitch new ideas to celebrities. The algorithm becomes obsessed with James, and the executives pitch him on an idea to have an animated version of Lebron inserted into classic Warner Bros. pictures.
Lebron calls the pitch idea stupid, and the sentient algorithm (played by an over-the-top Don Cheadle) loses it, steals Dom’s game and sucks both Dom and Lebron into the WB serververse to enact his revenge. Al G. Rhythm (get it?) sweet talks Dom and tells Lebron to gather up a team to play a game of basketball to get his son back. Al G. sends him to the Looney Tunes corner of the serververse, but all but Bugs Bunny have abandoned it after Al G. convinced everyone else to leave and inhabit other Warner Brothers worlds.
It’s basically CRISIS on Infinite Warner Brothers Properties.
Lebron takes Bugs with him to search for teammates, imagining an all-star team of Warner Brothers characters like Superman, King Kong and the Iron Giant. Bugs has other ideas, though. He just wants to get all of his friends back together because he was lonely. It’s not really a winning strategy to choose Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn over the most powerful superhero ever created, a giant monkey and a giant robot, but Lebron goes along with it because… well, you just have to go with it. This is a kids’ movie, after all.
Once the Toon Squad gathers, the movie is a lot of fun. We get copious references to other Warners characters and worlds, and I even got some goosebumps when John Williams’ score from SUPERMAN THE MOVIE swelled. But man, it was a bit of a slog to get there.
That’s my biggest criticism of Space Jame: A New Legacy – it just took way too long to get to the thing everyone wanted to see. The James family melodrama to set up the big game just took way too long and the whole thing was over-explained. Cutting the prologue in half to give more time to gathering the Toon Squad together would have really helped the flow of the film. It also would have gone a long way towards keeping my kids engaged with the movie.
Don Cheadle as the movie’s main antagonist was the MVP of Space Jame: A New Legacy. He really embraced the wackiness of the movie – and his character – and made every scene he was in worth watching. Cheadle even gets in on the numerous sight gags in the movie, complaining about a call from the referee late in the game, he’s suddenly decked out in a red sweater and throws a chair at the robotic ref, a la Indiana’s Bobby Knight.
I’m sure there were tons of other references and basketball in-jokes, but not being a basketball guy, they went right over my head. I was here for the Warner Brothers gags, and they were definitely well-represented. There are dozens of WB properties represented in the audience of the basketball game. I’ve watched it a couple of times now and I keep finding more. It’s a pretty impressive cameo list.
Another fun scene comes at the game’s halftime, with James’ squad down by 1,000 points and everyone is depressed and arguing in the locker room. Sylvester the Cat comes in saying he found Michael Jordan – the Toons’ partner in the original – and everyone gets excited, even Lebron. It wasn’t what they were expecting, though, as actor Michael B. Jordon and not His Airness walks into the locker room.
Once you get passed the way-too-slow opening set-up for the film, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a lot of fun and a good way to kill a couple of hours of a rainy weekend.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is in theaters now and is available to stream on HBO Max