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‘Space Jam’ is still a fever dream of a movie nearly 25 years later

‘Space Jam’ is still a fever dream of a movie nearly 25 years later

‘Space Jam’ is still a fever dream of a movie nearly 25 years later
March 23
13:30 2020

“Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now,

We got a real jam goin’ down,

Welcome to the Space Jam.”

I’m going to throw out my usual format here. “Space Jam” is a cornerstone of ’90s nostalgia for many, myself included. The DVD I abused through hundreds of rewatches is still around, and aside from my dad and friends, it is my only major source of information when it comes to basketball.

It’s also a fever dream of a movie. It’s like if you not only binged every single “Looney Tunes” short from the golden age, along with a massive ton of basketball games from the ’90s, but then shotgunned two dozen cans of Surge and fell into a coma. This movie may be what you see inside that very same coma.

’90s icon Michael Jordan has to team up with the classic “Looney Tunes” gang to defeat tiny aliens who grew giant after stealing the talents and skills of five NBA All-Star athletes, anchored by some dated pop culture references and some bizarrely entertaining cameos from Bill Murray and many NBA players.

Oh, and at one point the NBA season is suspended due to fears of a contagious pandemic . . . life chooses the strangest art to imitate, sometimes.

It’s a movie where Michael Jordan takes being kidnapped by iconic cartoon characters extremely well, — and then Bill Murray shows up near the end because he’s “a friend of the producer” (his actual words) — Shawn Bradley is considered an All-Star player and a movie that just has so much on-screen insanity in general.

This is very much a ’90s movie — everything is shot like a music video (turns out the director worked primarily in that field and only made one other movie), the so-called “All-Stars” are all people you never heard of (save for Charles Barkley) and the humor is so heavily based on contemporary pop culture that my jaw dropped when Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd randomly dress up as John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson from “Pulp Fiction” to blow a dude’s teeth out during the climatic game.

Yes, that happened. I repeat, this a fever dream of a movie.

All talk of the movie’s lunacy aside, the work that went into the animation is great. While it may not be “Roger Rabbit,” there is so much detail packed into the movements of the characters, with no expense spared when it comes to fluid movement. Even the background extras in the climax have plenty of animation cells, creating a strangely believable world. Seriously, hats off to all the animators who worked on this.

The characterization of all the Tunes is weirdly refreshing in that they’re mostly throwbacks to around the point when everything was figured out. The Tunes had only recently come back into popular culture after a decline in popularity, so it was surprising to see someone like Daffy Duck be . . . well, daffy. For those wondering, “What do you mean,” Daffy started as a daffy character rather than a mean-spirited, sarcastic jerk who feuded with Bugs. While some of that is still present, he’s mostly back to being a lovably out-of-it maniac who gets along with everyone else. In fact, all of the main Tunes are done justice and even get a few good punchlines.

Michael Jordan is also terrible in this . . . and it kind of works. He acclimates pretty quickly to being kidnapped by beloved cartoon icons and being pulled into a plot that involves playing basketball against little aliens that become superhuman monsters. Like the audience, he isn’t taking this seriously, and that apathy results in some of the dramatic stuff coming off funnier than intended, if it was ever intended to be serious at all.

It’s not all fun, though. There seems to be this idea if you don’t have a funny or witty script, bringing in recognizable comedians will automatically make your movie funny. That’s not the case with Wayne Knight here as MJ’s assistant. He kind of just pathetically kisses up to Jordan and we occasionally cut back to him every now and then where he does . . . stuff. Oh, and he drops product placement for Nike, McDonald’s and other merch in a single sentence. He also literally “blows up” near the end, so there’s that.

Bill Murray also has a surprisingly large role here as himself and he’s got a couple good lines, but . . . why? Turns out Ivan Reitman, director of the original “Ghostbusters” and its sequel, produced it so I guess that makes sense? The one meta line he drops is funny, so I guess his presence served some purpose.

There’s also the then-new character Lola Bunny, who’s rather boring and flat here. While her personality was better defined in later incarnations like “The Looney Tunes Show,” she’s only really here as fan-service, I guess? I don’t want to think about it.

So, “Space Jam” is definitely insane. Is it a good movie? No. Is it a fun time? Absolutely!

It’s a quick 87-minute watch, with fantastic animation that embraces its out-there premise. Some of the humor and references are dated, but the moments when the movie just goes as far as it can with its outlandish ideas, its an absolute blast. It’s now on Netflix and given the current state of the world, it is definitely worth a watch.

Final rating: 3/5

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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