As a kid growing up in the 90s, Space Jam was something that was unavoidable. The combination of Michael Jordan, then the biggest sports star in the world, and the Looney Tunes characters that we have all known and loved since the 1930s, was a smash hit, and even if the movie wasn’t actually that good, the vibes took off it became a cultural phenomenon that transcended both basketball and cinema! To be honest, I’m surprised that it has taken this long to reboot the idea, but here we are in 2021, with a new baller superstar and the same old rabbits and ducks. Would Space Jam: A New Legacy be able to replicate the cultural success of its predecessor?
In my humble opinion, no, absolutely not. Taking the reigns on the human side of things this time in Space Jam: A New Legacy is LeBron James, playing a version of himself, a basketball superstar and family man who has forgotten the joy of having fun on and off the court. When he and his video game creator son Dom (Cedric Joe) are dragged into the digital world by a vengeful algorithm called Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), LeBron is faced with the challenge of bringing together Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Tune Squad to beat Al-G’s Goon Squad and return to the real world. If that sounds overcomplicated and dumb, it’s because it really, really, really is.
One of the biggest things that Space Jam: A New Legacy gets wrong is forgetting what made the original so fun despite it’s questionable quality. There is such a push to incorporate modern video game culture into the plot that the whole thing becomes a really convoluted mess, with Don Cheadle’s bizarre AI villain front and centre and the Looney Tunes, the characters everybody wants to see, very much taking a backseat. The one thing that we all know about Bugs Bunny and co. is that those characters and their capers are timeless, but the intricacies of developing a 2021 video game are certainly not. I have a strange feeling that Space Jam: A New Legacy is going to look even more dated in 2040 than Space Jam does.
Second amongst its crimes is the fact that the film simply isn’t funny. Of course, the most enjoyable moments are those when the animation team were able to spread their wings and give us some good old fashioned Looney Tunes madness, but like I said, the Looney Tunes don’t even feel like they are being treated as important character within this hectic story. The film makes the most of its Warner Bros. connections, with cameos and references from everything from Casablanca to Game Of Thrones to Harry Potter to the DC Universe and beyond. There is so much Warner Bros. IP (space) jammed into this picture that it almost feels like the filmmakers have done so in the hopes that people don’t realise that this is essentially just an awful, basketball adjacent remake of Hook. A father and son at odds who find themselves in a magical world with an antagonist trying to manipulate events. Sound familiar?
Though I remember being impressed with his performance in 2015’s Trainwreck, LeBron James simply doesn’t do it for me here. It might be the pure limitations of his acting, it might be that he was holding something back, it’s probably both, but for one reason or another James simply fails to carry this movie. The NBA isn’t something that I know a lot about, but I do know that he’s in the GOAT conversation. Back in the 90s, though, what is clear to me is that Michael Jordan was on a whole other level of superstardom, and for British and other non-basketball centric audiences, that made and still makes a huge difference. LeBron clearly looks and feels at his most comfortable when doing his thing in the sporting scenes, but everything outside of that feels half hearted and amateur.
You would think Don Cheadle as Al-G Rhythm, a much more experienced and acclaimed actor, would help to raise the overall quality of the cast, but he’s equally as cringe worthy. The performance certainly boasts more conviction, but the character is dumb, his dialogue is dumb, and, consequentially, Cheadle comes out looking dumb.
There is, of course, a nostalgic kind of pleasure in seeing the Looney Tunes back on the big screen. Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and co. still prove to be great vehicles for chaotic slapstick comedy, but like I said, it really does feel like the only fun element of this movie is forced into the background, with LeBron’s acting and the father/son dynamic being the preferred over the lively animation.
Overall, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a flop, there’s nothing else I can really say. The film misuses it’s best asset, the Looney Tunes, and overuses its weakest asset, the acting of LeBron James. It’s a hectic, overstuffed plot about video games within video games and digital universes and algorithms, when really, all we really wanted was fun sports animation with the Bugs Bunny and one of the greatest basketball players of all time. It’s nowhere near as enjoyable or good as the 1996 original, and if we’re all being honest, that wasn’t even *that* good to start with!