In can be difficult giving a nostalgia-driven movie a fair shake when you have no emotional connection whatsoever to what it’s reflecting on. It’s why I almost didn’t review “Space Jam: “A New Legacy”. I wasn’t a fan of the original “Space Jam” back in 1996 so understandably I hold no attachment to it today. Perhaps that lack of connection or attachment is one reason I sat with a cold blank stare through most of this stand-alone sequel. Perhaps that explains why I not only entered it with utter indifference but left caring even less. Or maybe it’s just a bad movie. That’s what I’m going with.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is one big airball for Warner Bros. and the film’s star LeBron James. It’s not so much a movie as it is one massive marketing exercise with WB using it to highlight their many IPs and James using it to boost his brand. Some have called it “a shameless cash grab” and I’m sure there’s some of that. But for the most part the entire production plays like one big, long, excessive advertisement that ends up being one of the most grating movie experiences I’ve had in 2021.
The film comes from director Malcolm D. Lee working from a script written by a team of SIX screenwriters. That’s often a pretty good sign of where things are heading. The story is your basic father-son reconciliation bit. Playing himself, Lebron is an overbearing dad who can’t understand why his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe) would rather design video games than play basketball. Lebron’s wife Kamiyah (Sonequa Martin-Green in a thankless role) chides her husband, telling him that Dom needs a father, not a coach. Wise words but of little value in a movie like this.
Later, LeBron and his family are invited to the Warner Bros. lot for a pitch meeting with some empty-headed studio execs. They want to make LeBron their next big movie star (hilarious considering the god-awful performance he gives in this movie). The studio’s cutting-edge algorithm named….ahem…Al-G Rhythm (poor Don Cheadle) has developed a way to scan LeBron’s likeness and inject it into their other properties like “Justice League” and “Game of Thrones”. LeBron hates the idea and turns down the offer which infuriates the fame-craving algorithm.
Al-G Rhythm lures LeBron and Dom into the Warner Bros. server room where he somehow sucks them into a digital world that he calls the “Serververse”. In order to get out with his son, LeBron will have to assemble a team and defeat the algorithm’s Goon Squad in a no-rules basketball game. As dumb as it sounds there is a method to the algorithm’s madness. It’s just so glaringly inconsequential that you won’t care. The main thing is LeBron puts together a team of classic Looney Tunes characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety, and so on.
In truth, none of the family stuff carries much weight and none of Al-G Rhythm’s mischief really matters. It’s all there just to get us to the big basketball game which is nothing more than a deluge of chaotic slapstick and cringe-worthy gags that seems to goes on for eternity. And while there are no rules to the game, there doesn’t seem to be any rules for the filmmaking either. Lee and company apparently threw everything that came to mind at the screen resulting in a hollow 40-minute assault on the senses. And for anyone looking to torture me, making me sit through that excruciating Porky Pig rap sequence again would be unbearable.
Back to James, no one is going into “Space Jam: A New Legacy” expecting him to be a revelation. And most people would probably be content with him being forgettably average. But his performance here ranges from remarkably bland to so bad it’s distracting. And while I don’t mean to pile on him, we laughed more his stiff and unnatural line delivery in any of the film’s countless gags. Michael Jordan was never in any danger of getting an Oscar nomination for his performance in the original film. LeBron should be the instant front-runner for a Razzie.
Some may argue that this is just a kids movie and such scrutiny is unfair. But Pennywise, The Matrix, Game of Thrones, A Clockwork Orange, Casablanca, The Godfather – these are references we get that certainly aren’t aimed at children. And those are just a few of the movie’s innumerable cameos and callbacks. It ends up being hard to choose what’s most annoying, the relentless lionizing of LeBron or WB’s brazen self-promotion. Either way, it pretty clear that story, characters, good humor, and heart took a back seat to the misguided corporate priorities. Even the classic Tunes, the only real reason to watch this thing, feel like props there to fill space rather than have any fun and meaningful impact. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is now showing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.