SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Malcolm D Lee

Stars: Le Bron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Nneka Ogwumike, Steven Yeun, Michael B Jordan, voices of Zendaya, Jeff Bergman, Gabriel Iglesias, Eric Buaza, Candi Milo, Bob Bergen, Rosario Dawson. 

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1996’s Space Jam matched NBA legend Michael Jordan with the Warner Bros toon characters in an ambitious yet entertaining mix of animation and live action. In that film Jordan had to save the world from aliens in a match of proball. The film was one of the highest grossing movies of the year, but it has taken the studio 25 years to come up with a sequel. A somewhat inferior sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy reimagines the concept of the original film for the digital age and it explores some universal themes such as family, teamwork, complex father/son relationships, the importance of being yourself, and our modern obsession with technology.

Space Jam: A New Legacy centres around NBA legend Le Bron James (who plays a thinly fictionalised version of himself here), a dedicated professional basketball player obsessed with keeping his eyes on the game and not allowing himself to become distracted. But by constantly pushing his youngest son 12 year old Dominic (played by newcomer Cedric Joe, playing a fictional version of James’ real life son Bryce) to practice basketball to the exclusion of other activities he has created something of a rift. Dom is more interested in creating his own basketball themed computer game, an obsession Le Bron doesn’t quite understand. He is dismissive of Dom’s fascination with technology. 

In an effort to reconnect with Dom though James takes his son along to an important meeting with some Warner Bros executives who want to interest him in some ground breaking digital technology known as Warner 3000 (the first of many gratuitous product placement plugs in the film that eventually grate), which can digitally incorporate his image into thousands of film and television projects. The process is the creation of the artificial intelligence algorithm cleverly known as Al G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle). James is dismissive of the idea, labelling it as “stupid”, which earns the ire of the narcissistic Al. 

In anger he sucks both Le Bron and Dom into his digital servers, and forces James into playing a high stakes basketball game. Le Bron is transformed into a animated version of himself and forced to team up with an array of familiar WB toon characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, and the Roadrunner, etc, to take on a formidable CGI generated “Goon Squad” of super enhanced professional athletes. But Le Bron also realised that Dom has been seduced by Al’s schemes and promises and to save him and return to the real world he has to play the rigged games, played under rules he doesn’t understand.  

Some impressive CGI gives us a clever montage in which Le Brons’ character is digitally inserted into a number of iconic and classic movies, from Casablanca through to Mad Max: Fury Road, The Matrix, and the like. Some of these scenes may be unfamiliar to the target audience, but older audiences and aults alike may chuckle knowingly at the result. 

The director is Malcolm D Lee, who was responsible for the laboured and unfunny raunchy comedies Night School and Girls Trip, etc, but here he demonstrates an obvious affection for these classic characters. The state of the art digital technology that renders the characters is quite impressive and they get a modern makeover here giving us a more contemporary version of these beloved animated characters.

Space Jam: A New Legacy has been produced by James himself along with Ryan Coogler (of Black Panther and Creed fame), and the clever script has been written by a veritable basketball team of writers, including Juel Taylor (Creed II, etc), and many first time feature writers, some of whom have collaborated with Coogler on other projects. The film delivers some clever lines and is laced with an irreverent streak of humour – there is even a throwaway joke that references the first film – and an emotional core that will resonate. There are some lively moments during the basketball game, and the action is accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack that mixes rap, R&B and classic pop. 

But the film also contains a subtle subtext that reminds us of how shallow, superficial and cutthroat and competitive Hollywood is and how bereft of fresh ideas it has become. And with an overly generous running time of just shy of two hours the film is way too long, and many moments falls flat, and it overstays its welcome. The original Space Jam maintained a shorter running time and it kept its eye on the ball (pun intended) and never faltered.

Le Bron initially seems a little uncomfortable here and his reading of dialogue seems forced, but he slowly settles into the spirit of things. Cheadle is a standout as the cyber villain and he brings and oleaginous charm and menace to his performance.

★★☆

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