‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’: Image Rehab For LeBron James & A Lot Of Looney-ness

Basketball has changed a lot in the last 25 years, and so have its stars. That’s acknowledged in the opening credits of Space Jam A New Legacy. While original Space Jam star Michael Jordan had spent his career with just one team prior to the movie’s release, the start of A New Legacy takes us through a history of LeBron James’s travels through the NBA over the past 17 seasons. (It even includes a clip from The Decision, the polarizing made-for-TV event that turned more than a few basketball fans against him.)

 Indeed, Space Jam: A New Legacy treats its star as if he’s damaged goods, in need of redemption. Early scenes portray his parenting skills as just half a step above “pageant mom,” as he grooms his two sons for basketball greatness, completely overlooking the fact that Dom is a brilliant computer programmer who’s working on perfecting his next-level basketball video game.

 As you watch Space Jam: A New Legacy, your feelings about James will undoubtedly color your perception of the film. In the original, Jordan’s winning smile and universal appeal more than made up for his lack of acting skills; the same cannot be said of James. (Give the screenplay – and James himself – credit for taking a few verbal shots at his character flaws throughout the movie.)

 Fortunately for the film, James is only part of the formula – the other part, of course, being the timelessly lovable Looney Tunes crew. The movie’s most winning sequence is the 2-D animated sequence that begins with James’s arrival in Tune World, as he meets Bugs Bunny and sets about building a Looney Tunes team to take on the one being assembled by the film’s villain, a computer algorithm named Al-G Rhythm, played with requisite camp by Don Cheadle.

How is a computer algorithm the villain? Glad you asked. Rhythm has scanned James and his son out of the real world and into the Warner Bros. computer servers, where they are doomed to stay forever unless the NBA All-Star’s team can beat Rhythm’s in a basketball game.

 Of course, since all of the action takes place in cyberspace, it won’t be an ordinary basketball game – it will be the video game that Dom’s designed. And Dom, feeling alienated by his father, agrees to join the Goon Squad and help Rhythm win. So the game itself is less of a basketball game and more of a special effects spectacle, with the game’s normal rules completely thrown out the window.

  The game’s progression is predictable, but still fun, especially after James realizes he’s been coaching his team wrong all along, and he needs to “let the Looney Tunes be Looney.” There’s also a brilliant bit of misdirection at halftime, as the team is led to believe that Michael Jordan will return and lead them to victory. (We’ll spare you the spoilers and let you enjoy the moment.)

  With 25 years of technological advancements between the two movies, the two-dimensional Looney Tunes find themselves magically fleshed out into three-dimensional versions of themselves just before the game begins, which is visually jarring for longtime fans, but still effective. The movie’s special effects are top-notch, nailing the futuristic look and feel of Dom’s video game.

 Since the bulk of the film takes place inside the Warner Bros. computer “serververse,” plenty of the company’s other properties reside there, too, so we get plenty of sight gags and cameos from the studio’s long list of movie and TV titles. Some people will enjoy the challenge of spotting them all; others may find the device a bit repetitive and self-congratulatory after a while, since some of them feel a bit like the forced product placement sequence of “Wayne’s World” (which, as a Paramount property, does not show up, although Mike Myers does).

 Does James finally get his redemption at the end? Well, he does get his Hollywood ending, with a parental payoff designed to generate, as they say, all the feels. Will it change how you feel about “King James”? Probably not. If you weren’t a fan before, the movie probably won’t win you over. But at least it will keep you entertained for nearly two hours, which is certainly worth something.

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