Movie Review: Space Jam – A New Legacy
LeBron ‘King’ James brings his trademark moves and Warner Bros. brings the intellectual property to a marketing fiesta masquerading as a movie.
Starring: LeBron James, Cedric Joe, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
Running time: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: Parental Guidance
By Katherine Monk
When Wile E. Coyote falls from a towering desert hoodoo onto the canyon floor below, we can rest assured of a few things. First, his body will form an impact crater shaped just like his silhouette. Second, he will emerge from the Coyote-shaped hole like an accordion, wheezing out of the frame to the tune of a collapsing junkpile.
It’s a dependable chunk of our collective childhoods, which is the central reason why a movie like Space Jam exists in the first place. The equivalent of a greatest hits album for the Warner Bros. stable of cartoon characters, the first Space Jam movie didn’t exactly set the critical world on fire when it debuted in 1996 — but it did announce the beginning of Michael Jordan’s big screen career, as well as its functional end.
Jordan didn’t progress to starring roles in big Hollywood productions, but he did create a marketing empire unmatched by any modern sporting hero, celebrity, or superstar of any variety. So if there’s a legacy to Space Jam, it’s not cinematic creativity, but marketing savvy, brand exploitation and intellectual property aggression — which is exactly what director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, Barbershop: The Next Cut) brings to the fore from the moment this reel chugs into gear with a clash over physical exercise vs. video games.
… If there’s a legacy to Space Jam, it’s not cinematic creativity, but marketing savvy, brand exploitation and intellectual property aggression — which is exactly what director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, Barbershop: The Next Cut) brings to the fore …
Young Dom (Cedric Joe) — the fictional son of hoops superstar LeBron James — has created a videogame called Domball, but his dad thinks all the time Dom spends in his bedroom glued to the computer screen is a problem. LeBron wants his sons to be good ball players, not computer geeks, so he puts his foot down and tells Dom to get his act together and get real. Dom does his best, but there’s a darker force at work eager to keep Dom in a pixelated fantasy land and its name is Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle).
Al wants to keep all the good stuff inside his own mainframe where he has all the power bestowed by the Warner 3000 servers, which includes all the Warner intellectual property, from Casablanca to Marvin the Martian. And now, thanks to Al’s malevolent hijinx, the Warner Bros server array also includes Dom and LeBron — who were inexplicably sucked into the gurgling data cache by their cell phones.
Now, I’m not going to start on the problems with the actual premise of the movie — which is a father-son tussle inside a mainframe. We’ve actually been there, and done that. We’ve also watched a basketball star play hoops with two-dimensional toons thanks to that first Space Jam starring Michael Jordan, which wasn’t much of a cinematic slam dunk.
So this new legacy has nothing new to offer, except a joke about Michael Jordan — and a new take on Wile E. Coyote’s epic falls. You see folks, in this iteration of Wile E. Coyote’s impact crater, it’s not a silhouette we see. It’s a Nike Swoosh. Literally.
The whole movie feels like an extended exercise in intellectual property protection as Warner realized they had to exercise their characters on screen to keep them out of the public domain — and shackled to the WB shield. Disney created Once Upon a Time for this very purpose, and with a full stable of recognizable characters tethered to their tentpole, Warner yoked them all together for a team effort that re-establishes intellectual ownership — but does absolutely nothing else.
I have to say I did hold out some hope, if only because I’m a Bugs Bunny super-fan — but not even the androgynous hare with slap of sass and an anarchist heart can preserve this Jam.
To read more of Katherine’s reviews, check out the Ex-Press archive or visit Rotten Tomatoes.
THE EX-PRESS, July 16, 2021
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