Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Certification: U

Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, Zendaya

 Considering the premise, it's boggling how big Space Jam became. Released in 1996, the film brought together NBA All-Star Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes as they played basketball, resulting in a 6-times Platinum selling soundtrack and one of the biggest films of its year. Many ideas came about for a sequel, though none of those crossovers between Looney Tunes and real-life athletes would come to fruition until LeBron James came aboard the project, resulting in another trip to the basketball court.

LeBron plays a fictionalised version of himself, as he struggles to connect with his video-game loving son, Dom (Cedric Joe). When they're trapped in a digital space by Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), the rogue A.I takes Dom prisoner and challenges LeBron to a basketball game. Teaming up with Bugs Bunny, Lola, and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang, they must become disciplined to defeat the A.I's digitized champions.

Films like The LEGO Movie and Who Framed Roger Rabbit showed the optimal way to utilise IPs, as these recognisable properties were in service of compelling stories which touched on thoughtful topics. The opposite is true here, where everything's secondary to a corporation showing off what they own in the guise of forced references, brought alive through bad cosplay and glaring CG. There's a decent opportunity to utilise these Warner Bros icons, as the team opposing the Looney Tunes could've been made up of characters LeBron previously wanted to recruit like Superman and King Kong. Such an idea is unfortunately wasted, as the superpowered enemies are instead bland redesigns of basketball players.

What should be central to this story is LeBron's struggle to connect with his child, as their clashing interests leaves these two at a distance from each other. This should be the emotional centre, yet feels like flimsy set-up for treading on familiar ground. LeBron doesn't fare much better, as the acting chops he showed in Trainwreck are missing from this lifeless performance. At least Don Cheadle's having a blast, though if only that rubbed off on the film itself.

The biggest shame are the central performers themselves, the Looney Tunes. Following the lead of 2011's The Muppets, the gang has gone their separate ways and must be reunited, this time by visiting popular properties. There's inklings of something interesting here, as Bugs feels devastated by his family separating, or even how films are bastardised because the technology to do so exists. It's frustrating how this is all disregarded, just so the Looney Tunes can be superimposed into Austin Powers and Mad Max: Fury Road.

In an effort to bank on the nostalgia of 90's kids, audiences are left with a film that has little to say outside of showing off what Warner Bros has in their catalogue. Not since The Emoji Movie has there been such a feature-length orgy of cynical advertising. The only thing audiences will want to "come on and slam" is their heads against the wall.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is available in cinemas now, and on HBO Max in the US.