Lebron James and Bugs Bunny star in a scene from the animated and live-action movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Review: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ is not a slam dunk
Last year, Warner Bros. released Scoob!, a very bad reboot of the Scooby-Doo franchise. It gets off on the wrong foot almost immediately: minutes into the movie, Mystery Inc. entertains a possible investor, who turns out to be none other than… Simon Cowell. The walking, talking outdated reference judges Shaggy and Scooby’s performance of “Shallow” (Warner Bros. proudly holds the rights to A Star Is Born) and then vanishes into the aughts from whence he came. Space Jam: A New Legacy—Warner Bros.’ sequel to the 1996 hit that you should definitely avoid if you want to remember it fondly—is like watching that scene from Scoob! for two hours straight.
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Space Jam: A New Legacy is essentially Space Jam but with LeBron James instead of Michael Jordan and cyberspace instead of outer space. Trading Jordan for James is a welcome move—even though he’s barely trying, LeBron is handily the better actor—but the switch to cyberspace turns a guilty pleasure into a shameless advertisement. It’s not just any cyberspace, you see; it’s the Warner Bros. Serververse: a giant, digital repository of WB franchises and intellectual properties. LeBron and his fake son Dom are taken there by a sentient WB algorithm named Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, having lots of fun) after LeBron insults Al’s idea to scan LeBron’s likeness into all of WB’s movies.
Al, out for revenge, takes note of a feud between the big and small Jameses: LeBron is disappointed that his son built a basketball video game instead of practicing actual basketball (that’s your dream, dad!). Al recreates Dom’s basketball game in the WB Serververse, recruits Dom to his team, and gives LeBron an ultimatum: beat Dom at his own game or be stuck in the Serververse forever. LeBron is then slung to a distant corner of the Serververse where he runs afoul of Bugs Bunny, who suggests finding and recruiting all the other Looney Tunes characters. None of them are in the Looney Tunes world, though, having fled to other WB franchises in search of wacky antics. And so LeBron and Bugs head off on a journey through WB’s most bankable properties, CG-ing themselves into everything from Game of Thrones and The Matrix to Casablanca. Dear god.
The script, courtesy of a whopping six screenwriters, is nonsense—thinly written, illogical even by kids’ movie standards, and weirdly optimistic about corporate takeover of our smartphones. But that was all expected. It’s Space Jam. The real disappointment is that A New Legacy could’ve given any ridiculous excuse for pairing LeBron with the Looney Tunes but opted for an extended marketing tour through the Warner Bros. catalog. This craven, soulless IP parade was the result of a series of conscious decisions. It’s also the only movie to ever force a bad performance out of Steven Yeun, so, that’s two war crimes to reckon with.
The detours into other movies are mercifully brief, however, and the glut of WB characters is mostly resigned to standing on the sidelines during the climactic basketball game. It’s a crowd of second-rate cosplay brought to life by overexcited extras, which is silly in a way that’s actually kind of endearing. It feels more like a Hanna-Barbera crossover special than an exhibition of property rights. And, for some reason, WB shoved some of their least child-appropriate characters into the stands—there’s a perverse joy to seeing the gang of murderous rapists from A Clockwork Orange cheer on Bugs Bunny.
Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t without its other minor pleasures. It’s oddly well-directed and edited for what it is, at least from a pacing perspective. There’s a manic energy to the thing that keeps it moving along. And there’s a handful of funny gags—six screenwriters are bound to produce a few good jokes. But unless you’re seeing Space Jam to support the visual effects team, these are just the kind of positives that keep you from wanting to set the Warner Bros. lot on fire.