‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ review: LeBron James’ throws up an airball

Space Jam

The original Space Jam film hasn’t exactly grown in stature since 1996, but lots of people have fond memories of watching Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes crew win its intergalactic basketball match. It seems unlikely that this belated sequel will inspire a similar kind of nostalgic affection in 25 years’ time. It’s not just a mess, but a frenetic mess that’s exhausting to watch.

Alarm bells start ringing from the opening titles, which list no fewer than six screenwriters – including original director Terence Nance, who dropped out a few weeks into shooting because he and “the studio/producers had different takes on the creative vision”. Nance’s replacement, Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee., hasn’t managed to streamline Space Jam: A New Legacy into anything remotely cohesive. This film is a queasy fever dream of corny life lessons, ugly and excessive CGI and shameless plugs for Warner Bros.’ bulging back catalogue.

Space Jam
The Looney Tunes are back on court in the LeBron James-starring sequel. CREDIT: Warner Bros.

The basic plot is at least easy to follow. After a disastrous meeting at Warner Bros. HQ, where he remains uncharmed by Steven Yeun and Sarah Silverman’s underwritten movie execs, basketball legend LeBron James and son Dom (Cedric Joe) get sucked into the Warner Bros’ “serververse”. Inside this vast but vague virtual world, they’re preyed upon by a bitter humanoid algorithm called, erm, Al G. Rhythm (a floundering Don Cheadle). Taking a divide-and-conquer approach, Al G whisks Dom away from his dad and cynically encourages the boy’s coding abilities: Dom enjoys building video games more than shooting hoops, but his father hasn’t realised this yet. Then he sets LeBron a challenge: if the sporting superstar can assemble a team in the Warner Bros. serververse and win a game of Dom’s souped-up virtual basketball, father and son will be reunited IRL.

Naturally LeBron recruits the Looney Tunes crew as teammates, but only after he and Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) have taken a whistle-stop tour through scenes from lucrative Warner Bros. properties including Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Mad Max: Fury Road. After this dazzling but bewildering movie mash-up, Space Jam: A New Legacy segues into a climactic match that’s about as easy to understand as a video game you’ve never played before. It doesn’t help that Al G’s enormous virtual court is flanked by a distracting crowd of classic Warner Bros. characters. Just try concentrating on LeBron’s latest slam dunk after you spot an extra dressed as Blanche Hudson from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? cheering him on.

Space Jam
LeBron James follows in Michael Jordan’s footsteps. CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Sandwiched between so much piled-on CGI, an old-school animated section featuring Looney Tunes faves such as Sylvester and Tweetie Pie feels like a charming anachronism; only Zendaya’s enjoyable voice role as Lola Bunny gives it a contemporary edge. LeBron James is a likeable presence throughout, but pretty limited as an actor: Kris Bowers’ score does the hard work whenever he has to deliver an emotional beat. It all adds up to a long and very chaotic movie-shaped showcase for Warner Bros’ past, present and (hopefully not) future.

Details

  • Director: Malcolm D. Lee
  • Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Zendaya
  • Release date: July 16 (UK cinemas)

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