Thursday, July 15, 2021

New ‘Space Jam’ aims low on the age scale

   LeBron James and Warner Bros. 
   If you ask me what Space Jam: A New Legacy is about, that's pretty much all I have to say. 
   Beginning with an ode to LeBron's basketball achievements and then turning into a running advertisement for Warner Bros, the movie branches out from the original Space Jam, which was released in 1996 and starred Michael Jordon.
   Early in the movie, James stresses the importance of fundamentals on the basketball court, a view that's at odds with a film that's overwhelmed by flash and dash, razzle-dazzle,  moves that may make you long for a time out.
   Warner has moved Space Jam into the 21st century by sending LeBron and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) into a virtual world run by Al-G-Rhythm (Don Cheadle), a villain who resides in a giant server. Al-G feels slighted because LeBron has rejected a bid to star in a video world that Al-G has created. 
   The movie also features a father/son story. LeBron pushes his son to play basketball, to "put in the work." Dom prefers inventing video games. He doesn't want to be a mirror image of his highly disciplined dad.
    Once inside Al-G's computer world, LeBron becomes a cartoon figure -- at least some of the time and the movie cooks up a plot that pits LeBron and his cartoon cohorts (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, and others) against the Goons, a team of menacing opponents modeled on real players such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. 
    Can LeBron act? It hardly matters. He only has to be LeBron -- or some version of LeBron, in this case, the dad who learns that he must respect his son’s ambitions.
   Perhaps to amuse adults and maybe to remind the world of a  proud Warner Bros. history, you'll find references to Casablanca and Mad Max: Fury Road. Did I mention references to Harry Potter, Superman,  Scooby-Doo, and oddly for a kids' movie, Clockwork Orange?
    The big basketball game might have capped a brisk 60-minute movie, but New Legacy runs for one hour and 55 minutes and the game feels endless.
    Director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, Barbershop, the Next Cut) and a team of screenwriters push New Legacy toward the positive side of the value scale, but a message about allowing  young people to follow their interests seems muted in a movie whose style leans more toward agitation than illumination. 
    King Kong, Iron Giant, and others watch the big game from the sidelines. The stakes: If LeBron loses, he and his Tune pals will have to remain in Al-G's virtual world forever. If they win, they go home.
    Kids may respond to this amped-up cartoon, but for me,  a Tune victory and home couldn't come soon enough.

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