Movies

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Is a Bloated Nostalgia Headache


Malcolm D. Lee’s 25-years later sequel, “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” combines the worst aspects of “Ready Player One,” “Ralph Wrecks the Internet” and “Hook” and comes across more like one of those recent, unwanted “Jumanji” sequels than anything else.

LeBron James plays himself and winds up getting sucked into the Warner Brothers “Server-verse,” which is overseen by Don Cheadle’s Al G. Rhythm, who finds James worthy of being exploited within the studio vault of franchises.

“Algo rhythmically speaking, he’s more than an athlete,” says Rhythm, as Cheadle recites reams of embarrassing dialog.

After whole scenes go by promoting the WB vault, we finally get to what we came for: LeBron and the Looney Tunes, only the former is not in his element and the latter sport new voice actors and have been much funnier elsewhere.

I’m not going to make a case that the Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny-starring “Space Jam” (1996) is cinematic perfection, though an appreciation of it depends on one’s age. In 1996, it was either a crassly commercial event film or a pop culture milestone.

The sequel is far more aggressive and insufferable in the way it aims to reach every single audience demographic on planet Earth, bludgeoning the audience with flashy special effects and movie totems but failing to cohere into a movie worth our time.

James has a magnetic presence and is looser than Jordan, but it’s still not enough. James stole Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck” and deserves a great vehicle, but this isn’t it.

Cheadle is all-wrong for his role, never funny or threatening as the villain (in his defense, Danny DeVito didn’t add much playing “Swackhammer” in the first one, either). Seeing Cheadle quote Denzel Washington’s most famous line from “Training Day” is a groaner, though at least we get an irritated reaction shot from none other than King Kong.

This needed an out of left field MVP to center the numbing finale, with its endless CGI and changing-by-the-minute “logic” and rules. The original had Bill Murray, whose infusion of wit was a major highlight; here, Lil Rel Howery shows up and doesn’t get to do enough.

During the final game, someone utters, “This isn’t going well.” Yep.

It’s a mess, though the problem isn’t entirely the fault of the director, Lee (whose best film is still the 2002 sleeper “Undercover Brother”) but a screenplay composed by six (!) writers. If they whittled this down to a 3-minute Super Bowl commercial, then maybe it could have worked.

The first “Space Jam” was a brisk 90-minutes, while this is a very long two hours.

There are two good laughs, and they arrive very late: a bit where Wile E. Coyote silently enters the frame with his tail on fire and a genuinely surprising gag involving a possible appearance by Michael Jordan are the sole comic highlights.

“Space Jam” wasn’t a great basketball movie (it offered lots of slam dunks and little else on the court) but at least utilized the legend status of its star. The sequel, on the other hand, has so much CGI nonsense, the actual brilliance of James on the court isn’t visible. The emphasis is on video games but the father/son battle of a gamer vs. an athlete is halfhearted.

While the ’96 “Space Jam” has one of the best remembered soundtracks of its decade, the songs here are mostly remixes of late 20th century hits. The only thing the old and new “Space Jam” have in common is how aggressively trendy they are.

Even the blend of the real and the unreal isn’t satisfying, as James is often replaced by a cartoon likeness and the Looney Tunes themselves are eventually rendered into “realistic” and ugly CGI renderings, akin to the live action “Garfield” or “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies.

The original had some out-of-place jokes that referenced “Pulp Fiction” and “Patton,” hardly appropriate for the film’s demographic, though this goes even further, as there are explicit and mystifying send-ups of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Casablanca,” “Austin Powers,” “The Matrix” and “Game of Thrones.”

Say it with me, readers: references aren’t the same as jokes.

Tellingly, Lee previously directed “Scary Movie V,” which demonstrates for 90-minutes that referencing other movies is no substitute for actual laughs.

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As in “Ready Player One,” seeing tossed off CGI renderings of ’80s and ’90s pop culture artifacts, stripped of their emotional heft and context, served as “easter eggs,” is no substitute for the real thing. Like that Spielberg dud, we again get a misuse of “The Iron Giant” and “King Kong,” characters with heart that are mere pixel dressing here.

This is every bit as elaborate and desperately trying too hard as “Detective Pikachu.” The overplotted screenplay squeezes in Rhythm distracting James’ son, akin to how Captain Hook tries to make Peter Pan’s son his own in “Hook.” It’s one of many plot elements that wind up dead ends.

If you’re just here for the yuks and court action, that also comes up short. There’s also the subplot involving James’ family and their search for him, which goes nowhere.

Alert viewers will note the WB-owned characters seen on the sidelines watching the game; among them are The Mask, Mr. Smith, Pennywise, The Wicked Witch of the West, The Nun, The Penguin and the Droogs, all portrayed by no-name actors who come across like hammy street performers standing around Hollywood Boulevard.

Oh, the indignity.

Considering how the Looney Tunes don’t appear for the first 25-minutes, they have a similar function – we’re looking at intellectual property, franchise ownership, not characters. This is as bad a vehicle for these figures as “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”

It feels like a movie cobbled together by Al G. Rhythm, a steady medley of bad ideas and old school references that have no relevance (Look, Gremlins! Why?).

Every dreadful movie has at least one irredeemable moment and this has a few – hearing Granny utter “Haters gonna hate” is a crusher, though just try not cringe while Porky Pig enters a rap battle.

Is having Porky Pig rap an example of cultural appropriation? How about when Bugs Bunny dances to Hammer? Everyone who got bent out of shape over the bizarrely controversial Pepe Le Pew (who was famously deleted from this) have more than enough here to irritate them.

With its portrait of a computer determining hit formulas by fusing together intellectual properties in a cold, uninspired manner, this never grasps that it’s a self-parody but thinks it’s being ironic. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is awesomely artificial, the cinematic equivalent of a nostalgia migraine.

One Star





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