To say that LeBron James is something of a polarizing figure ranks directly alongside saying he can play a little basketball in the Grand Understatement Hall of Fame. Thus, reviewing Space Jam: A New Legacy without going off in multiple directions about LeBron himself is something of a tall order. However, we of the Good Pirate Ship RedState aren’t all politics, all the time, and occasionally enjoy kicking back to enjoy some escapist movie fun … that is, when the movie lets us. Surprisingly, the new Space Jam does just that in an effort that, while hardly a cinematic classic, is a rather fun romp through Looney Tunes land.
As one who was fortunate enough to grow up watching the classic Looney Tunes cartoons every Saturday morning and most weekdays, yet like everyone else doing the same had the wherewithal to understand that they were, indeed, cartoons and not role models for life (although I may have cribbed a bit of Bugs Bunny’s sarcasm here and there), looking back at said cartoons I’ve come to appreciate the comedic and storytelling creative genius that was Chuck Jones and the other directors who brought these outrageous characters to life. Jones and the other cartoon originators, including Mel Blanc, who voiced all in the Looney Tunes menagerie, have long since graduated to entertaining the multitudes in heaven. Occasionally, whichever corporate whoevers are running Warner Bros this week have attempted with varying levels of success to keep the franchise running. This has often led to self-imitation rather than creation, but while Space Jam: A New Legacy occasionally veers into the land of repetition it has sufficient amounts of the original spirit to keep things entertaining for longtime lovers of the wascally wabbit and cohorts.
The plotline and James’ performance as himself are acceptable. The overriding theme that family is everything gets occasionally heavy-handed, but of such is most movies aimed at kids. The only major on-screen detraction is Don Cheadle as the film’s villain, whose performance chews the digital scenery to distraction. Granted, the opponent in a kids’ film seldom involves multiple layers of subtle intrigue, but Cheadle comes across as having made one too many trips to the studio Starbucks before entering each scene.
The movie’s greatest weakness is in how it simultaneously overdoes and underutilizes its constant references to other Warner Bros franchises and properties, including DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera. Said moments are both nonstop and hit-and-run, leaving on the table multiple opportunities for classic character interaction between the main players and those we see on the screen only in brief background appearances. You have at your disposal Scooby Doo. And Yogi Bear. And Batman. And Superman, although he does have a brief cameo appearance in the film’s middle section, said section involving James and Bugs assembling a team albeit with decidedly different ideas of the best teammates easily providing the film’s funniest moments. And a host of other characters. Even if it was only for one-line cameos, the comedic possibilities are lamentably ignored.
If, paraphrasing the immortal bard Weird Al Yankovic, you’d rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with your tongue than watch anything involving LeBron James, Space Jam: A New Legacy is decidedly not for you. If, however, you’re looking to passably pass a couple of hours getting away from it all, while it isn’t Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century or Rabbit of Seville the new Space Jam will while away the time. It could be better, but it’s okay. (Or you can watch the original, which was better. Or you can watch the old Chuck Jones cartoons, which are the best of all.)