By Jason Delgado
The song Back in the Day by hip-hop artist Ahmad captures a nostalgic longing for a simpler time, like when Looney Tunes was plastered all over the airwaves, pre-smartphones and social media. “Back in the days when I was young I’m not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again.” Space Jam: A New Legacy brings back some of those fond Looney Tunes memories for me.
I was a teenager when the original Space Jam was released in the summer of ‘96, so the prospect of teaming Michael Jordan with toons did not excite me. It was a kids movie, and at that time, I was all about admiring the real greatness of MJ on the court, while rooting on my Lakers, listening to hip hop, reading comics, and playing as much ball and Sega Genesis as humanly possible. Admittedly, it was fun to see some of my favorite players up on the big screen (such as 5’3” Muggsy Bogues), but they weren’t the greatest actors in the world. Even Jordan seemed stiff to me, like a fish out of water when he wasn’t on the court.
Enter LeBron James. His dramatic acting in Space Jam: A New Legacy is as Charles Barkley would say in the special way that only he says it, terrible. What did everyone expect, Taxi Driver era Robert DeNiro? James was an unexpected comedic revelation in the Amy Schumer flick Trainwreck, with the key word being comedic. Dramatic acting isn’t his forte, much in the way that it wouldn’t be a good idea to play Muggsy Bogues at center. Championship teams know how to put their players in the best possible positions for them to succeed, and this Space Jam didn’t do that, at least from a mature, refined audience point of view. Younger viewers and families will probably not mind for the most part.
The story of Space Jam: A New Legacy centers on James, and his son Dom (played by Cedric Joe) getting trapped in a digital world, while teaming up with the Looney Tunes to battle Al G. Rhythm (played by the always wonderful Don Cheadle) and the powered-up Goon Squad (featuring LeBron’s Lakers teammate Anthony Davis) squad, in a high stakes game of basketball to win the right to go back to the real world.
The first half an hour of the film is a drag trying to get through the lame plot and ineffective human drama, but I feel like the Looney Tunes add a whole new colorful world to the movie when they pop on-screen. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino (Spider-Man: Homecoming) does a masterful job of filling the on-court scenes with eye-popping colors.
As of this writing, Space Jam: A New Legacy is at 31% Tomatometer score from critics, and an 81% audience score. Why the huge discrepancy, you may ask? On a critical level, this movie is not going to win any Best Picture Oscars, but on an entertainment level, my two-year old son and I enjoyed it. I miss seeing the Looney Tunes of my youth, and their absurdity had my son cracking up. Also, the video game style of basketball was perfect for my son and I to enjoy together, because he’s too young to get into the real game.
Another issue that some people may have is with the long list of pop culture cameos. Personally, movies like Ready Player One are my jam, so I didn’t mind it. I like seeing the Justice League pop up and get into the action.
Despite his less than stellar acting, LeBron James was entertaining when he was a cartoon in the film (literally, and figuratively in human form when he was acting cartoonishly). I love the scene where Porky Pig is freestyling to Craig Mack’s 90’s hit Flava In Ya Ear, and LBJ is having a blast in the background. I also think that James comes up big in the clutch dramatic moment of Space Jam: A New Legacy, just like how he usually comes through in real late game championship situations.
I give Space Jam: A New Legacy two and a half hot sauce packets out of five. The movie wasn’t enough to get an NBA Jam, “he’s on fire,” but it’s enough sauce to have a good family time!