Watching “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” a question kept nagging me: Was “Space Jam” from 1996 this annoying? Both movies starred a professional basketball player who couldn’t act, both movies found a convoluted way to pair them up with the classic Looney Tunes characters in order to win a basketball game, and both movies tried way too hard to make Bugs Bunny and company appeal to a new generation. The difference is that I loved “Space Jam” when I was ten, but I found “A New Legacy” to be downright painful at 35. You could certainly point to my tastes maturing, but I still love plenty of kids’ movies, especially from Disney and Pixar. I highly suspect that “A New Legacy” is simply much worse.
The setup is that LeBron James (playing himself) is having a tough time connecting with his son Dom (Cedric Joe, who is not LeBron’s real son, nor are any of the actors cast as his family), who wants to design video games for a living instead of playing basketball. LeBron thinks the two can bond by visiting the Warner Brothers studio, where the executives want LeBron to agree to lending his likeness to a program that can “insert” him into any property they want. LeBron thinks the program is stupid, which its algorithm, personified by Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) takes personally. Al abducts both LeBron and Dom and tells LeBron that the only way to get them out of the program is to beat him in a game of basketball.
LeBron can fill up his roster with any number of Warner Brothers characters, and he’s excited at the prospect of a team filled with Superman, King Kong, and other common-sense selections. But the first character he runs into is Bugs Bunny, who stealthily stacks the team entirely with his fellow Looney Tunes like Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and even the somewhat-obscure Gossamer. Not only does the team not consist of ideal athletes, but they don’t even take the game seriously, spending their practice time goofing around and blowing each other up rather than focusing on fundamentals. LeBron insists they obey his orders to play the game right, the same way he insists Dom obey him and pursue basketball as a career. Will he learn that there is room in life for a little Looney-ness?
Much of the movie is an advertisement for other Warner Brothers IP’s. There’s the aforementioned superheroes, but also “Game of Thrones,” “Harry Potter,” “The Matrix,” and many more. Even “Austin Powers” gets in on the action, and the 1997 original is my favorite movie of all time. I remember the original “Space Jam” threw in a nod to my other favorite movie, “Pulp Fiction.” Parents hated they threw that reference into a kids’ movie, which of course made me love it even more. During the climactic game, many classic Warner Brother characters can be seen in the crowd, with the idea that adults will watch the film over and over to spot all the cameos. It’ll be more fun than watching the unfunny comedy.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is fun enough when the characters are engaging in classic comedy (sometimes you just want to see long, consequence-free sequences of unapologetic violence), but it’s terrible when invoking “modern” comedy like rapping, pop-culture references and meta-humor. Seriously, the characters spend more time winking and arching their eyebrows at the camera than they do talking to each other. It adds up to a mess of a movie where about nine out of ten jokes are nothing more than air balls.
NOTE: I was going to give this movie a D, but the audience at my screening screamed infectiously at a scene where the human star of the first “Space Jam” may or may not make a cameo. That’s the magic of seeing a movie in theaters instead of at home.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. The film is rated PG for some cartoon violence and some language. Its running time is 105 minutes.