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Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Premise: A remake of the 1996 film. NBA player LeBron James and his son (Cedric Joe) are transported into WarnerMedia’s computer network. LeBron’s only way out is to win a basketball game alongside Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes.

What Works: The original Space Jam wasn’t a great movie but it was successful as a piece of family friendly entertainment. Part of the job of a remake is to reinterpret the material in a way that speaks to the current audience and the new version of Space Jam mostly accomplishes that. Instead of space aliens, the villain of A New Legacy is a sentient algorithm (Don Cheadle) that controls WarnerMedia. LeBron James’ son, played by Cedric Joe, is an aspiring computer programmer and the climactic basketball match plays like a video game. This ought to speak to a youth audience who play games on Switch and iPad devices.

What Doesn’t: While the Space Jam remake does reimagine the material, it never really improves upon it. The new film tells fundamentally the same story but the remake is considerably longer and it quite often feels that way. In an effort to mix up the formula, the narrative of A New Legacy is more complicated. LeBron James is imported into a computer network along with his teenage boy and part of the movie is about father and son reconciling their differences. That family story isn’t very compelling and it is worked out clumsily, almost like an afterthought. A New Legacy also suffers from the way it keeps inflating LeBron James’ ego. The 1996 movie emphasized Michael Jordan’s basketball prowess but the story was smartly built around Jordan’s interest in playing baseball which was driven by his need to please his father; that movie (and Jordan himself) acknowledged that he wasn’t a good baseball player and that bit of humility went a long way. There is no humility in the remake. The film is a monument to Lebron James’ status as an NBA superstar and it keeps reminding us of that as though we might forget. The Space Jam remake is also an obnoxious intellectual property bonanza. Much like The Lego Movie and Ralph Breaks the Internet, the movie is crammed with easter eggs and cameos from various properties. Space Jam: A New Legacy reaches into WarnerMedia’s catalog and it includes references as diverse as Casablanca, DC Comics, Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, and even 1971’s The Devils. But the filmmakers do little more than name drop those properties. With the exception of the Mad Max: Fury Road sequence, the Space Jam remake is bereft of cleverness. It’s just IP recognition for its own sake and the movie plays less like The Lego Movie or even Ready Player One and much more like those terrible post-Scary Movie parody films that were churned out throughout the 2000s. Instead of inspiring joy, the Space Jam remake invites and even encourages cynicism. This kids film makes repeated references to The Matrix, a twenty-two-year-old R-rated movie that just happens to have a new sequel scheduled to release next year.

Bottom Line: Space Jam: A New Legacy is an adequate piece of family entertainment in that it will hold the attention of children for a couple of hours. But the remake is inferior to the original film at almost every turn and it comes across like a promo reel for WarnerMedia.

Episode: #861 (July 25, 2021)