So this is what pulling out all the stops looks like.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a candy-colored, image-crammed B-ball bauble for the bambinos, children of the kids who flocked to the 1996 hit, which paired-up the Looney Tunes with Michael “His Airness” Jordan.
It’s a people-and-cartoon-critters-trapped in a video game comedy, visually dazzling if narratively vapid. There are a few hearty laughs and a lot of smiles and smirks of recognition as six screenwriters threw everything in their Looney Tunes and Warner Brothers memories at the screen to keep the kiddies happy, or at least distracted.
This is, front and center, a Lebron James star vehicle, built on his brand — “King” James — and that of the studio that’s been “the stuff that dreams are made of” since 1923. So we hear everybody call James “the King,” see his LJ crown logo (and Nike, of course) and get a heaping helping of his personal “brand” — doting dad, basketball workaholic, stand-up guy, not afraid to speak up on social issues — and a LOT Of jokes at his expense. Yeah, he’s changed teams…a lot. Yes he’s got a towering ego and yeah he can be touchy about that.
What adults dragged into “Jam” might take away from this harmless kid-centric ‘toon is a lifetime — several lifetimes — of Warner Brothers references, from their Looney legacy to lesser Saturday Morning cartoon characters, King Kong and “The Matrix,” “Casablanca” (Another “Sam,” this one with a big’ol red mustache, is at the piano.) to Harry Potter and “Game of Thrones.”
“Winter, I say WINTER is comin’!”
If you’ve ever watched a Looney Tune, you’ll get that and laugh. It’s a JOKE son. JOKE, that is.
The story is pure piffle — Don Cheadle is “Al G Rithm,” a thinks-for-himself computer program that sucks Lebron and his video gamer son Dom (Cedric Joe) into the “serververse” and blackmails them into competing in basketball with “video game rules” (erp) and Bugs Bunny physics. The various Looneys, scattered across the Warner Brothers spectrum (Potterworld, “Casablanca,” “GOT” etc.) are summoned for a do-or-be-deleted “Let’s settle this on the court” showdown.
They play against Al G’s unfortunately named “Goon Squad,” which includes bizarre, digitized and supernatural versions of “The Brow” (Lebron’s teammate, Anthony Davis), WNBA star Diana Taurasi, Klay Thompson and “Dame” (Damien Lillard).
No, it’s no more “logical” or less easily-labeled “mindless” than the original “Space Jam.” But it’s for kids, remember?
James is, if nothing else, a better actor than Jordan ever was. He’s no DeNiro, but he mugs on cue and stays in the spirit of this thing.
And the messaging is simplistic, but always positive. “You can’t be great (at anything) without putting in the work.” “Family is everything” and “There’s a short cut for EVERYthing in the serververse,” which isn’t necessarily a virtue.
Director Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip,” “The Best Man”) and the credited screenwriters try to wring a little fun out of all this, and miss as often as they hit. But younger kids will eat up the eye candy and get a tiny taste of what The Looney Tunes were all about, even if this big budget monstrosity never comes close to the anarchy created by Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and the team at Warner Brothers’ “Termite Terrace.”
MPA Rating: PG, for some cartoon violence and language (profanity)
Cast: Lebron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe, Sonequa Martin-Green, Ernie Johynson, Lil Rel Howery and the voices of Anthony Davis, Diana Taurasi, Damian Lillard and Zendaya.
Credits: Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, script by Juel Taylor, Jesse Gordon, Tony Rettenmaier, Terrance Nance, Keenan Coogler and Celeste Ballard. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 1:55