"He doesn't need a coach. He needs his dad."
In 1996 Warner Bros. merged the universe of live-action sports with 2D cartoon animation, crafting a unique film that offered mass appeal (thanks primarily to basketball legend Michael Jordan) while updating the look, feel, and tone of Bugs Bunny & Company. It was an immediate success.
Now, 25 years later, following a slew of delays, dead ends, and cancellations, the studio is attempting to recreate that magic. This time around, they've updated the concept and have a new legend at the helm, Cavalier turned Heat turned Cavalier turned Laker LeBron James.
Though not a direct sequel or straightforward reboot, Space Jam: A New Legacy starts much like the original, with a young James, dressed in jeans in the middle of the night, shooting hoops in his driveway. A conversation with his dad leads to the opening credits (sans R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" - for obvious reasons), which catapults us forward in time to the present day.
While the original film offered humorous career advice to Jordan, often poking fun at his tenure on the baseball field, A New Legacy tackles James' highly debated public persona, occasional public miscues, and real-life role as a father. It's a tricky balance that director Malcolm D. Lee attempts to walk, keeping fans invested in the basketball while painting an often referenced GOAT in a slightly negative light.
James, playing a caricature of himself, is stern and disciplined with his two sons, pushing basketball on them in hopes that they will follow in his footsteps. It is what he knows, and he feels confident he can instill the same level of passion he has for the sport in his offspring. But his youngest son, Cedric Joe's Dom, has other desires that exist in the world of coding and video games. When a heated argument after a work meeting piques the interest of Don Cheadle's villainous Al G. Rhythm, the pair find themselves on opposite ends of the basketball court in a winner take all battle for humanity.
Though James and company do fine with the material given, the situations are too simple, the dialogue painfully forced. To be clear, I fully realize that the film's early moments target the under-five crowd, and things need to be kept straightforward. However, the lackluster delivery and sluggish antics prevent the film from gaining traction, missing the mark across the board as we get a front-row seat as to why few athletes find success on the big screen.
But then the film transforms, animating its sports legend and giving the story a much-needed shot of adrenaline as Bugs Bunny provides a literal crash course on the current state of the Toon World. It's a humorous revisit to the ways of the cartoon universe, full of gimmicks, clichés, and bloodless violence, and, for the most part, it works. I'm not sure if it's the creativity or the nostalgia; regardless, I wasn't disappointed.
Other than the below-the-belt jabs at LeBron, a seeming trademark for the now cemented franchise, A New Legacy scores high marks by masterfully utilizes its free reign of the Warner Bros.' properties. Dialing in on the older demographic, the film navigates its way through the Serververse, completing a self-referenced draft day in hopes of scoring big names (and characters) to complete their team. The execution is near flawless as it humorously inputs Looney Tunes characters into the studios' most famous films, stirring up some much-needed laughs while shamelessly celebrating the studios' past successes.
Unfortunately, the good times don't last. Rather than build upon its creatively strong segment, the film struggles to bring it all together. Incorporating several real-life players from both the NBA and WNBA, A New Legacy strives to highlight modern elements of the current video game world. Regretfully, it misses the mark.
Rather than dial in on a few critical aspects to the game, the writers took extreme liberty to do whatever, whenever they wanted - common sense be damned. And I get it; authentic representation isn't the goal here. But we'd all appreciate some level of consistency so we can attempt to follow the on-court events.
While the basketball game wages on, spurring a few laughs from those who don't understand what is happening narratively, those who do are distracted by the bystanders in attendance. A new app has brought many from Earth to the game, joining them with other popular personalities from WB properties. What starts as a humorous background joke quickly turns into a Where's Waldo montage. The gimmick does more than expected for the film, distracting from the actual game and allowing those with a sense of understanding to momentarily overlook the painful dialogue and ill-planned situational drama and, in the moment, enjoy the comedy of it all.
*This film is available in theaters and on HBO Max.