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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Film rate and review: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’

Superstar LeBron James is front and center in the sequel to the 1996 classic

Graphic by Shelby Cotta
Graphic by Shelby Cotta

He’s played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. Now, NBA superstar LeBron James is taking his talents to Tune World in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” 

The film, directed by Malcolm D. Lee and penned by six writers, premiered in theaters and on HBO Max July 16. 

Serving as a sequel to 1996’s “Space Jam,” high expectations surrounded the new film’s release. At 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is clear it buckled under that pressure. 

Scoring metrics from sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb will bolster the idea that sequels rarely live up to the expectations of their predecessors. However, there are exceptions to the rule, “The Dark Knight”, “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” and “Toy Story 2” being some of my favorite examples. 

Despite its 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the original “Space Jam” had an impressive impact on kids born from the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Falling into that range myself, the original film was a childhood staple. My love for it persevered into my college years. I may or may not still have a giant poster featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny on my wall. 

The 1996 film is pure nostalgia. The plot of space aliens stealing the talent of NBA players and then playing a high-stakes game against Jordan and the Looney Tunes is ridiculously entertaining. I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Twenty-five years later, the Tune Squad is reuniting and teaming up with the best basketball player of the 21st century, James.

In “Space Jam: A New Legacy” the four-time NBA Champion, four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, 17-time All-Star and three-time Olympian faces a new challenge, the big screen. 

The film opens with a young James at a basketball game in Akron, Ohio, in 1998. Following is a credits sequence showcasing his famed career. From there, the film jumps to the present day. 

Within just the first few minutes on screen, it is made very clear that James is not an actor. His performance makes Jordan’s acting chops in 1996 look like those of Robert De Niro. James spends most of the movie riffing off of animated characters, a tough task even for experienced actors. It is easy to cut the athlete some slack, but his interaction with his sons Dom and Darius, played by Cedric Joe and Ceyair J. Wright, are unnatural.  

“Athletes acting, that never goes well,” quips James during an early scene when meeting with Warner Bros. executives. I think James is right on this one, and he proves the notion. 

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While there are many small things to nitpick, I'd rather focus more on the overarching problems present in this sequel– the biggest being its ambition. 

The plot centers around James and Dom getting trapped in the Warner Bros. Serververse, a computerized realm that is the home to various Warner Bros. characters. Once sucked into the digital landscape, they meet the film's antagonist, Al G. Rhythm, portrayed by Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle. His performance, menacing at times, sparks the movie's main plot. Rhythm kidnaps Dom and tells James the only way he will get his son back is to beat him in a basketball game with the whole world watching. 

James is sent to the Looney Tunes planet of the Serververse and, with the help of Bugs, searches for teammates. Once the film dives into this montage of movie references, the majority of which stem from R-rated films, the justification that this is meant for kids seems to get lost.

Looney Tunes characters are thrown into the middle of scenes from “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “Austin Powers” and “The Matrix.” All of these segments are a couple of minutes long and aim to draw in the adult audience. Watching this chunk of the film brought me back to “Space Jam” and the ridiculous “Pulp Fiction” reference placed in the middle of the big game. If you understood it you got a laugh, but if you didn’t it was easy to move past. 

The idea of having easter eggs and cameos from other Warner Bros. properties is fine in principle, but when you pile so much on the audience, it becomes wildly distracting. Any adult viewer will pick up on the fact that this movie is a very convoluted HBO Max marketing scheme. 

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is not all bad. The combination of live action, hand-drawn and computer-generated animations look quite impressive. A few jokes landed for me, mostly from the game commentary coming from Ernie Johnson Jr. and Lil Rel Howery.

The movie was entertaining enough, but the dialogue and performances didn’t pull me into the larger narrative of James attempting to get his son back. There is potential for younger generations to feel the same nostalgia I have for the original, but it’s hard to overlook the slew of other options when it comes to kid’s movies that nail the adult appeal. 

Mediocre acting, clunky writing and an overload of Warner Bros. IP make this movie fall flat on its face. Instead of leaving a new and distinct mark, as the title anticipates, “Space Jam: A New Legacy'' tramples over one of the most beloved films of my childhood. I’m already subscribed to your streaming service, I didn’t need to be convinced.  

Rate: 3/10

Contact Joseph Henry at jhenry@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 


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