Ready Player .01
Space Jam: A New Legacy is a stupefyingly dumb family comedy that is more of a self-congratulatory circle-jerk for Warner Bros. studios than a sequel to Space Jam. Look, I’m all on-board with a movie referencing movies but… you have to do something else with the reference besides being a reference. If anything, the film plays more like an advertisement for HBO Max, which Space Jam: A New Legacy is currently streaming on, and which also thankfully saved me on gas mileage.
25 years and six writers (yes, it took six people to come up with this) later, the sequel to Space Jam has arrived. Admitted, it’s been about ten years since my last viewing of Space Jam, and like most children of the 90’s, the memories of it are somewhat fond. I mean it’s Looney Toons and basketball- one thing I love, the other… well, if it’s on, I can follow it (I dabbled… or should I say, dribbled, as a kid). Though as an adult it’s also clear that the film might also not have been good, and was blatant product placement. Blatant product placement. Huh. That is something that has carried on into A New Legacy, which is essentially an old legacy, but we’re acting like it’s new because it’s hip or something. Frankly, the original might have been blatant product placement… and it was still subtle compared to this. This film is a long, nearly joyless affair, with barely a creative bone in its body and perhaps a somewhat amusing line every 13 minutes or so. It is also, for a family “comedy,” ass-numbingly long, and this is coming from someone who didn’t even fork over $15 to see it in a theatre (to those thinking about it, I am here to save you).
So, I’ll come out and say it: Michael Jordan is a better basketball player than LeBron James… or that’s what I gather. BUT, LeBron James is a better actor than Michael Jordan. Jordan’s presence in Space Jam let him get away with the fact that he wasn’t an actor; James is naturally funny, or at least he was in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck. So for a second there, I thought at least he might be able to elevate this material; not really sure who was clamoring for a sequel to Space Jam after all this time, but at least having him on board might’ve made some of it funny enough. In Apatow’s hands he worked wonders; in the hands of the SIX (yes, again, SIX) writers of Space Jam: A New Legacy, he is given little to nothing to do, besides a nice but familiar “emotional” storyline involving his son. Yet he is given nothing of any particular comedic value because everything here feels like such a product. Not just of the movies that are being consistently referenced, but of the original film. It’s as if they took the original concept, which was already somewhat thin, and changed a few details. Voila! “A new legacy.” Uh huh.
James is… James, and what a nice role for him, seeing as everyone outside of his family keeps talking about how he’s a king. The film opens with him in his early years, then flashes forward to present day. One of his sons- only really a character for five minutes- takes after his father and aspires to play. His youngest son, Dom (Cedric Joe), doesn’t, and is more interested in video games (he also, believe it or not, created his own video game, but this is of little interest to LeBron).
Looming in the background of the “plot” is an A.I. system (I think) named (sigh) Al G. Rhythm, played by the wonderful Don Cheadle. Now, yes, Don Cheadle is wonderful, but that isn’t to say he is wonderful in this movie. Cheadle recently received an Emmy nomination for a guest spot on Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Frankly, I was surprised, because I didn’t remember he was even in it (he too doesn’t understand the nom). What would be less surprising though is if Cheadle wins a Razzie for this film. Seriously, absolutely nothing about this performance works; every line delivery, every motion. It’s all very false- something that might have worked if Jim Carrey did it, but thankfully, he dodged this bullet. Cheadle, honey, you’re an angel, but this is a big L…
Anyways, (sigh) Al G. Rhythm is an A.I. who lives inside the Warner Bros. serververse (these plot details are so stupid I am honestly embarrassed to type them, and I didn’t even write the movie) and is tired of not receiving credit. He hatches an algorithm (oh, so that’s where the name comes from) in which Lebron James’ avatar will be present in all sorts of media (movies, video games, etc) or something, and it’ll be a big hit and everyone will love it. The heads at Warner Bros. (Sarah Silverman… and… Steven Yeun…?) pitch this idea to James and Dom. Dom flips for it; James thinks it’s a terrible idea and tells them that it’s one of the worst he’s ever heard. It’s funny, there are a lot of lines in this movie where people talk about how awful an idea is, or how bad something is, and, well, I wish the filmmakers had just taken the advice from the SIX screenwriters and saved us all the two hours… but I digress.
Al G. Rhythm (sigh) is mad af (it seems like something he might say) that LeBron doesn’t like it, and so he soon sucks LeBron and Dom into the Serververse. He then challenges LeBron to (what else?) a game of basketball, and banishes him to Toon Town to assemble his team. Now, the first 25 minutes are… bad, but we at least do feel some sort of relief with the arrival of Bugs Bunny. LeBron, now animated, discovers that Bugs is alone in Toon Town, and that the other toons have gone onto bigger and better things. So the two of them set off to get them, and once this starts, the film made me squirm for… interesting reasons. Yosemite Sam is in Casablanca because… it’s Warner Bros. Granny is in The Matrix. Elmer Fudd as Mini Me is somewhat clever, but honestly, these scenes didn’t make me laugh because not only did it seem like Warner Bros. was already pretty in love with itself prior to this, but here they really just seem to be showing off; referencing what they can because they’re Warner Bros.
That being said, as much as this doesn’t work, it works even more than what’s to come. All of this builds up to the climactic basketball game between LeBron’s Toon Squad and Al G. Rhythm’s (hopefully the last time I have to write that) Goon Squad, which is pretty much in the form of the game that Dom created. Now, this sequence doesn’t work for a number of reasons. One being that it is the last hour of the movie. Seriously, a film already pretty creatively low on gas spends an hour in the same spot. Two, in that hour, there might be about five minutes of material that is actually worth a damn, giving the Looney Toons little to nothing to do. Yet in my eyes, the biggest sin of this finale is… well, Warner Bros. Right before the game begins, Al G. Rhythm (dammit, again) turns all of the characters, who up to that point were animated, into live action creations (in the case of the Looney Toons, they’re CGI). What doesn’t work about this is you have characters like Bill Skarsgaard’s Pennywise, Malcolm McDowell’s Alex DeLarge, Danny Devito’s Penguin, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and Jim Carrey’s The Mask jumping and cheering in the background… but none of them are played by the original actors. If they had kept them as animated, this might’ve been okay, though the fact that Pennywise and Alex DeLarge are present in this movie is also really freaking weird on its own. Yet since they’re just played by random people, it looks so fake and phony that it honestly sort of creeped me out; they feel more like those people dressed up as iconic characters at an amusement park, taking Martin Scorsese’s Marvel comments a bit literally.
I hated this film, I couldn’t wait for it to end. What moments made me laugh, I was never really proud of. Yet there aren’t many of them. With James being apart of it, it had the potential to be amusing, but not even six people could muster up a film that is anything more than a product. This is what was cooked up after 25 years. If there’s a third Space Jam (God willing, there won’t be), hopefully at least it’ll be 50 years from now, so then I’ll have a chance of being dead.