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‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ has no soul and I must groan

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ has no soul and I must groan

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ has no soul and I must groan
July 30
14:30 2021

“You want to be great — you got to put in the work.”

Estranged from his son, Dom (Cedric Joe), a video game developing protege, LeBron James (LeBron James) takes him to Warner Studios to bond. However, a self-aware algorithm, Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), decides he wants to become the next best thing and sucks LeBron and Dom into the Serververse. To save Dom, LeBron must assemble the Looney Tunes for a high-stakes game of basketball like you’ve never seen before.

Supposedly.

Folks, the original “Space Jam” isn’t a good movie but it is a cornerstone of ’90s pop culture and arguably even basketball culture. Now, Warner Bros. has finally drafted a follow-up into existence with “Space Jam: A New Legacy” after decades of trying and failing to get the franchise back off the bench. Instead of Michael Jordan, it’s LeBron. Instead of outer space, it’s cyberspace. The production is slicker but the corporate overreach is even more apparent.

LeBron is something of a mixed bag when it comes to succeeding Michael Jordan. When Jordan starred in the original, he didn’t have a couple years of acting under his belt like James, even if most of them were as himself. Whereas Jordan’s rather disengaged performance matched what was really a relaxed fever dream, Lebron has more energy for a considerably faster-paced mess. He’s not a great actor and the high-energy results in more misses than bullseyes, but he has some genuinely endearing interactions with the Tunes.

The antagonist is also a huge step up — Cheadle is doing so much with a role that should be one-note and forgettable. He should be this cliche who is so unoriginal he exits viewers’ minds as soon as the credits roll, but Cheadle plays him with such relish and mania, he becomes the best part of the movie.

That’s not really saying much when you consider the rest, though.

The story doesn’t matter much for these kinds of movies, but “New Legacy” feels lacking even as a rehash. While LeBron has some decent moments with his son, the increased focus doesn’t benefit them one bit and the quest to reunite the Looney Tunes isn’t even explored in any way for potential commentary. There’s an interesting contrast to the original, where Michael’s father encourages him and LeBron doesn’t, but the way the movie develops it feels somewhat mean-spirited.

So much has been written about the overload of Warner Bros. properties present in this dump. It’s not just in the final game, either — the characters travel through reused clips with Looney Tunes and LeBron spliced in. “Austin Powers,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Matrix” and even “Casablanca” aren’t safe from recycling.

Speaking of that climatic game, there is so much to be said. First, it should be acknowledged that plenty of time, work and effort into making it all happen: the cameos portrayed by real actors, the coordination is done to make them look like they’re all in the same plane of reality and even the amount of work into recreating the characters.

For example, one of the cameos is an incredibly sexually charged nun from the extremely controversial 1971 horror drama, “The Devils,” a film that has been heavily censored and hard to find in the half-century since its release.

Why? To get a cheap “I understand that reference!” reaction from horror buffs.

All these cameos are also either CGI or extras heavily made up. It’s so clear these are just people being paid to stand around cosplaying. It’s a very thin layer of fog that dissipates without that much effort on the part of any attentive viewer.

The Looney Tunes themselves are mostly fine, but there’s nothing interesting done with them and even the performances are mixed. While some of the original voice actors reprise their roles from the original movie, recent Bugs VA Jeff Bergman’s performance seems to have deteriorated and is inconsistent in quality. Zendaya also sticks out as a sore thumb among everyone else, not even making much of an attempt to fit in with the rest of the cast.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is perplexing. It is “Space Jam” for today, but it’s also transparently driven by corporate mandate and marketing and hostile to the idea of originality or even nostalgia for the original. It can’t just be “Space Jam,” it has to be “Ready Player Two,” a giant advertising sign for the studio itself, a self-cannibalizing grinder of pop culture taken to its absolute extreme. I understand this isn’t for me, but who is it for? Kids won’t catch some of the pretty obscure characters on display while adults and long-time fans will be turned off by the lack of originality and sheer vapidness.

Look. There’s still the original and then there’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” both of which trounce this and the original. Plus, they prove there’s still more that can be done with classic characters who are entering their eighties and nineties.

Final rating: 1/5

Courtesy Warner Bros. 

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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