Back in 1996, a nine-year-old Joey loved Space Jam when it came out. For a pre-teen film and sports nut, it was just what I wanted. Fast forward to 2021 and Space Jam: A New Legacy is very much not what I wanted. At the same time, though, it’s right there in the title…a new legacy. It’s not meant for me. It’s designed for that pre-teen cinephile and basketball lover (and video game player, but more on that later) who’s excited for it. It’s less about the Looney Tunes and more about various Warner Bros. properties. That’s okay, too, I suppose. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, a critic should always try to watch a movie on the level it wants you to watch it at. In that regard, this flick works.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is less fan service to the Looney Tunes, or even the NBA, but mostly to Warner Bros. and LeBron James. The first one felt a little less manufactured in that regard, even though it’s very much Michael Jordan fan service. That keeps this one from likely having the lasting power of the original, but this late in the game, no one was expecting the magic to be recaptured.
LeBron James (himself) loves basketball, shockingly enough. His son Dom (Cedric Joe), however, prefers video games, even designing one himself. This creates friction between the two, and WB rogue artificial intelligence Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) plans to take advantage of it. Hurt that James has turned down an opportunity to work with his algorithm to be a Warner Bros. icon, Al kidnaps Dom and brings both James men to the virtual world. There, he challenges LeBron to a basketball game. If the NBA star wins, he gets his son back. If he loses, however, they’re stuck there, as well as the millions who are watching the livestream of the game. Needing a team, LeBron is dispatched to a reject land, where his only options are…the Looney Tunes.
This time, it’s not just a simple basketball game, but the game LeBron’s son has designed. Being as King James plays the game a certain way, adjusting to the more arcade style that Dom created proves challenging. Of course, with the stakes high and Al’s bet about to doom humanity, the Looney Tunes and LeBron step up. If you’ve seen the first one, you know where this one is going.
LeBron James was a terrific supporting player in Trainwreck, but here he’s actually a fairly poor actor. Michael Jordan wasn’t good in Space Jam either, but James has showcased some decent chops before. Here, he’s hard to watch. Don Cheadle, on the other hand, knows he needs to ham it up and really goes all-in. He’s having a blast and it rubs off. The voice work of the Looney Tunes is all fine, but there are no stand-outs. The same goes for Cedric Joe, who the script forgets about in the third act. Supporting players here include Khris Davis, Wood Harris, Sonequa Martin-Green, Ceyair J Wright, and more.
Director Malcolm D. Lee goes for the quantity over quality approach with his visuals. There’s a lot going on in each frame, and if only some of it is interesting, that’s the price of admission. The writing team, however, leaves something to be desired. The team of Celeste Ballard, Keenan Coogler, Jesse Gordon, Terence Nance, Tony Rettenmaier, and Juel Taylor are clearly serving many masters. There isn’t a singular focus, but instead a lot of lip-service paid to ideas. Again, it’s for kids, so that’s not unexpected, but so many writers (and likely so many drafts of the script) result in a bit of a mess.
Space Jam: A New Legacy will probably do for kids what Space Jam did for me, two decades and change ago, and isn’t that the point? I may be becoming an old fart, but this is fun for kids. There are highs for adults too, to be sure, as well as some eye-rolling lows. Overall, if you go into this flick with clear eyes about what it is, there’s a reasonably good chance that you’ll have a fun time.