Twenty-five years ago (yes, it has been this long already), the live-action/animation combo of ‘Space Jam’, which saw NBA legend Michael Jordan teamed up with an eclectic squad of Looney Tunes cartoon characters for a high-stakes basketball game was a beloved fan favorite at the time. Jordan was at the height of his career, where he led his Chicago Bull team to a championship glory against Seattle SuperSonics at the 1996 NBA Finals. And having him in ‘Space Jam’ was like an added bonus. A mix of novelty factor and just the right timing.
Following the huge success of ‘Space Jam’, where it made over $250 million against an $80 million budget, there was supposed to be a sequel with Jordan back in the game. But the plan didn’t work out as expected and it suffered from development hell until Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James came on board. Instead of a direct sequel, ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ is more of a reboot catered for both older and younger generations, even though it did acknowledge the existence of the first film in a certain capacity.
The story follows LeBron James, whose younger son (Cedric Joe’s Dom) is kidnapped by a state-of-the-art algorithm in Warner Bros.’ virtual space known as the Warner 3000 Server-Verse. The algorithm in question goes by the name of AI-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), a manipulative and power-hungry A.I. looking to boost his visibility instead of remaining anonymous all the time. AI-G Rhythm initially trying to get Warner Bros. execs (Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun appeared in cameos) to convince LeBron with a potential moneymaking pitch that will help the studio to boost its fortunes. But LeBron rejects the pitch altogether and AI-G Rhythm feels immediately devastated.
And so, he ends up kidnapping Dom, who happens to be with his dad during the pitch meeting. In order for LeBron to get back his son, he has to take up a basketball challenge inside AI-G Rhythm’s server. AI-G Rhythm is then giving LeBron a specific time to gather a team before the game officially begins.
From there, LeBron’s only hope to win the game is teaming up with the Looney Tunes led by Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman). It’s kind of baffling that a live-action/animation hybrid like ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ takes six screenwriters to come up with a script. The result is a bloated film that runs 30 minutes too long at nearly two hours long. By comparison, the first film kept it compact at around 90 minutes. The new film even tries hard to inject some emotion and threw in the obligatory moral lessons about the importance of family and looking out for each other. This is especially true with the father-and-son angle played by LeBron James and Cedric Joe. The thing is, LeBron himself is hardly an actor capable of pulling off such a role. He’s obviously more comfortable in showing up on a court (real or virtual) and play some basketball. But when it comes to emoting and acting moments, he looks disappointingly wooden.
Fortunately, the rest of the actors are decent enough in their respective roles, beginning with Cedric Joe’s supporting turn as the estranged younger son, Dom James. Don Cheadle clearly has a field day playing the tyrannical AI while it’s nice to see the good old Looney Tunes characters back on the big screen (or small screen if you are streaming ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ on HBO Max).
Malcolm D. Lee (’Barbershop: The Next Cut’, ‘Girls Trip’), replacing Joe Pytka from the first film does a workmanlike job meshing everything together. The film may have been lengthy and could have used some serious trimming. But it was visually distracting enough to keep you fairly occupied with (obviously) better, though showy special effects while the film goes as far as cramming with famous IPs. And there are lots of them, notably the elaborate sequence where LeBron and Bugs Bunny assemble the rest of the Looney Tunes characters.
For instance, there is a scene where Yosemite Sam appeared in 1942’s black-and-white classic ‘Casablanca’. There are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, covering from the Adam West era of Batman to Jim Carrey’s The Mask (just the character, not the actor himself) and even recognizable animated characters like Fred Flintstone and the Iron Giant.
The virtual basketball game itself, which lasts around an hour-long has its few entertaining moments. Overall, ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ may feel like a cash grab for the sake of nostalgia factor but at the same time, given the current hardship of living in the pandemic era, it’s good to watch/stream a film like this. The kind that simply wants you to sit back and enjoy the show no matter how silly it gets.
Read More: Where Was Space Jam: A New Legacy Filmed?