The premiere of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” was a family affair at X-Box Plaza for the pre-screening party with carnival games, a dunk competition and a Salt-N-Pepa concert before people filled up a few theaters at the Regal LA Live to see LeBron James team up with Bugs Bunny and pals.
I didn’t get to see LeBron James and that might have saved my neck from the strain of looking into the sky, but I did get to see his and other luminaries’ limos lined up after the screenings.
You don’t go to a “Space Jam” film for good acting or even a great plot. You do go to test your knowledge of Warner Bros. properties (e.g. Harry Potter and King Kong). There’s a few crowds of character cameos that you can try and spot your favorites.
The first “Space Jam” was about Michael Jordan saving NBA stars after their playing powers are stolen and competing against space aliens to prevent the Looney Tunes from leaving Earth. Jordan’s fictional family was also at risk and Jordan was still in his baseball era.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is more about the internal workings of a family and the threat here takes its theme from the Matrix. Instead of outer space, the threat comes from an inner space, the internet. As with the original film, we first see LeBron as a child (Alex Huerta) being told to give up computer games and concentrate on basketball. He throws away the Gameboy his friend (Khris Davis) gives him. “You can’t be great without putting in the work.”
As an adult, LeBron tells his computer nerd son, Dom (Cedric Joe as a fictionalized version of LeBron’s younger son Bryce), to focus on his basketball skills. Dom has programed a computer game of basketball with a twist that has a glitch when it does LeBron’s key move that he’s been trying to teach both his sons (Ceyair J. Wright plays Darius a fictionalized version of Bronny). His wife warns him, “He doesn’t need a coach; he needs his dad.”
LeBron visits Warner Bros. to hear a project proposal, one formulated by Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). When LeBron turns down the proposal because “When athletes act, it never goes well,” Al-G Rhythm takes over the elevator and brings LeBron and Dom (“You made me hate basketball”) to the basement where the Warner 3000 Server-Verse swallows them up. Dom explains to his father, “We’ve been digitalized.”
LeBron claims claustrophobia, but the Server-Verse is vast and includes Tune World, Westeria, a Harry Potter planet among other places.
Al-G Rhythm turns Dom against his father, using an enhanced version of his game. But Al-G Rhythm also uses the game’s scanning app to bring in other players and people into the Server-Verse.
LeBron must play against Al-G Rhythm’s team in order to win Dom’s freedom. When he attempts to recruit a team, Bugs knows who LeBron is because “I may live in a hole in the ground, but we get TNT.” Bugs ignores all of LeBron’s choices (which include Superman, Wonder Woman, Trinity and Kong) and recruits his old team. Al-G Rhythm takes in basketball players, male and female, and hybridizes them (with things like Diana Taurasi becomes part White Mamba and Nneka Ogwumike becomes the part spider Arachnneka) into the Goon Squad. Klay Thompson becomes Wet-Fire because he’s both water and fire. Anthony Davis is The Brow, a male predator-winged player. Damian Lillard is a robot that can speed up time called Chronos.
The Looney Tunes try to be the kind of basketball players that LeBron wants, but in the end, they have to be themselves to win and LeBron learns to use some Looney Tune magic as well.
There are puns and plenty of product placement. These message is wholesome and that makes this family friendly. Don’t expect good acting except from Don Cheadle who makes a worthy, but not too frightening villain. My only quibble is that I prefer the 2D forms of the Looney Tunes. There’s something lost when they become the Looney Tunes go 3D and you might wonder, “What in the AARP is going on here.”
The question isn’t can LeBron James act just as the concern over Michael Jordan acting wasn’t important for the original “Space Jam.” LeBron might pick up a few pointers from former Lakers Rick Fox, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal or especially the former Miami Heat Ray Allen (Spike Lee’s “He Got Game”) who garnered praise from Roger Ebert. Good acting and a good plot is not the aim of “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
This is a father and son story that encourages both physical fitness and STEM and adds female human basketball players to its roster while sending a message about letting people be themselves. That’s progress in 2021.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” opens 16 July 2021.