Have you ever had an ex that you dumped because of X reason, but then the years go by, the world beats you up, you suddenly realize nothing and no one is perfect, and all of a sudden, you wish you had them back in your life because the alternatives are so bad that X reason doesn’t even seem like a good reason for dumping them any more?
That’s how I feel about the original Space Jam in light of the new Space Jam.
When I was a kid, I thought the original was a horrid mess, just a dumb piece of film, sans plot, just one big ad for the NBA and Loony Tunes, a marketing ploy to get people to pay attention to both.
Ah, but the new one made me go and seek out the old and…well, it still is a very silly movie…but I’ll admit…there is a better attempt at a plot and much more success at humor.
The thin plot? Swackhammer (Danny Devito) is the crooked owner of the intergalactic theme park known as Moron Mountain. Sales are dwindling, so he wants to kidnap the Looney Tunes and force them to perform for park guests until the end of time. He sends his tiny minions, the wimpy nerdlucks, to kidnap Bugs and Co and while they lack physical size, they make up for it with enormous ray guns that the tunes can’t beat.
In true Bugs fashion, the wascally wabbit sticks a post-it note in a made-up rule book that says the Tunes get a chance to defend themselves (he could have just written you have to let the tunes go but then the movie wouldn’t happen.)
Long story short, Bugs challenges the nerds to a game of basketball, thinking his opponents are so small that he and his loony friends will easily dominate them. Alas, the nerds manage to steal the skills of famous 90s players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues and a few others whose names I forget already.
This makes for the funniest parts of the film, as it becomes an ongoing sideplot where the players and the NBA investigate how they lost their skills. The NBA assumes a mysterious virus is in play, so they cancel the season so they can tent and fumigate all the basketball forums, almost a blast from the past that we can relate to today in this age of covid.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles and friends visit doctors, healers and all manner of quacks in the hopes of figuring out how to regain their skills, each scene funnier than the last.
The Tunes kidnap Jordan so he can become their star player, and the film literally wastes no time on Jordan wondering how the heck he got there or being shocked that cartoons and/or aliens are real and so on. Like, it almost would have made more sense if they had spent a minute or two with Jordan being shocked about this, but His Royal Airness is just like, oh well this is just an unexpected pain in the ass thing I have to deal with.
Bill Murray and Wayne Knight round out the cast, Wayne of Seinfeld fame being Jordan’s toadyish sidekick/publicist and Bill declaring that he always harbored a secret desire to play pro ball. B-Ball legend Larry Bird has a few funny scenes, the funniest being when he and Murray witness Jordan being sucked down a golf ball hole and decide that they’re too busy to do anything about and not to worry because he’ll probably be OK.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Both the original and sequel have major plotholes, though both have the attitude of plotholes being so silly that they make the movie good. However, the original at least made an attempt at patching the holes together with tape and glue, while the sequel doesn’t try. I noticed more second and third billing tunes were allowed in the original, which makes me think these cartoons are so old that today’s kids only know about Bugs and his immediate friends. The original is only an hour and a half long, whereas the sequel drones on, and the Tunes get way more screen time. The film has a self-depricating approach, where the tunes themselves mock things that don’t make sense, spiriting plotholes away with a joke.
I couldn’t help but notice the distinct lack of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose,” but I’ll review it anyway.
I was a kid when the original Space Jam came out and my thought at the time was, “This is the dumbest movie ever made.”
And then I blinked, half my life passed me by and now they’ve made the dumbest sequel to the dumbest movie ever made.
But let me back up. The sequel inspired me to watch some clips of the original and I’ll admit, as an adult, I appreciate the original a bit more and I somewhat understand what everyone involved was trying to do.
Basically, in the 1990s, Michael Jordan conquered basketball, but unlike Alexander the Great, he didn’t weep, because there were plenty of other worlds to conquer…and boy he tried, oh how he tried. His Royal Airness tried to dominate baseball but didn’t get too far. He got into shoe design and succeeded, Air Jordans being more popular than ever.
And he attempted a foray into Hollywood with the original, “this is so bad it is kinda good” movie…at the very least it developed a cult following. If you were a 1990s kid and you loved cartoons and basketball, then you loved this movie.
Meanwhile, the Looney Tunes had grown stale, stagnant. The world had become a rougher place and there was less appreciation for their brand of pie in the face, slapstick comedy.
Thus it was a match – a movie that allowed Jordan a Hollywood victory while keeping Bugs and Co. alive well into the twenty-first century.
Skip a head a couple decades and some change and Lebron James is today’s numero uno basketball star. Hollywood is remaking literally everything, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before they remade a movie that was odd to begin with.
The main criticism you may have read already? It sells out. The entire movie comes across as one great big commercial for Warner Brothers’ movie catalog, perhaps even taking advantage of the opportunity to rekindle old IP claims.
Disney is a master at this and there are times when Mickey and Co. collaborate with the House of Mouse’s stars, only for the audience to gasp at how far reaching their cinematic universe is.
So it feels like WB wanted to mimic that…but I mean…you know…come on now…how many kids were waiting to see a cameo from Casablanca, or A Clockwork Orange or What Happened to Baby Jane? (I actually thought that one was an odd looking Marilyn Monroe until the web told me different).
My 2 cents is the massive sell-out saves the movie, and is probably the only way it could have been made. The plot, if you can call it that, centers around “Warner 3000” or the Warner Brothers Studio server, controlled by an algorithm or to be exact, “Al G. Rhythm” and honestly, I’d love to be the writer who came up with that name. He was probably like, “Yeah I have to get this draft in soon and I don’t want to be late for pilates so Al G. Rhythm it is.”
Even worse, Al is played by the great Don Cheadle. Part of me feels bad that Don, a longtime established thespian who has taken on great, dramatic roles and appeared in some of the biggest movies of the past few decades, lowered himself to appear in this drek…but then the other part of me reminds myself that Don cashed the check so…moving on.
Al considers himself a great genius deserving of glory and will never be famous for as long as he remains hidden in the Warner Server-verse. So, blah blah blah, long story short, he hatches a plan to kidnap Lebron’s son Dom and challenges King James to a basketball game, to be livestreamed to the public, the clicks of which will no doubt give him the attention he desires.
At first, Lebron thinks this will be a cinch, for he can call on WB’s greatest champs, like Superman, the Iron Giant, King Kong and so on to take on Al G.’s Goon Squad consisting of NBA and WNBA greats mashed up with animals to become b-ball dunking monsters.
‘Alas, you guessed it…Bugs Bunny and friends are the only back up that the Warnerverse will put at Lebron’s disposal.
In my opinion, the Tuney crossover into the Warnerverse saves the movie. I get why people think it’s a sell out, but 30 minutes into watching Lebron act (hey no offense, but everyone has one talent gifted from God and people want to see basketball players act about as much as they want to see Meryl Streep dribble a ball)…watching Bugs chase down his pals who migrated to other corners of the Warnerverse gave me the laughs I needed to keep watching.
For me, Wyle E. Coyote and the Mad Max villains chasing Road Runner and Wyle E. holding up a sign that reads “Witness Me!” was all I needed to stay…and at a run time of 2 hours for a plot as thin as tissue paper, you really do need a good laugh.
On the one hand, it’s fun. It’s got a lot of pretty colors and great graphics. If your kids like sports, they’ll like it. If they don’t like sports, just fast forward through the first half hour until Bugs shows up.
On the other hand, I have to question several of the cameos. While Disney’s characters are family friendly…much of the Warnerverse? Not so much.
Examples? Rick and Morty return the Tazmanian Devil to Bugs, after apologizing for conducting experiments on “his weird badger thing.” Yes, R and M is a cartoon but no, this is def not a toon you want your kids watching. Frankly, you shouldn’t watch it either. It’s that naughty.
Others? Well…the game at the end is attended by a vast, sprawling audience consisting of WB characters, with one side devoted to the villains who cheer Al G. on. Some are fun…like an assortment of Batman villains, decked out in their garb from the 1960s, 80s, 90s and so on. Danny Devito’s Penguin hanging with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Cesar Romero’s Joker etc. The Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz? Sure.
Of course, good guys like The Jetsons, the Flintstones, Scooby and the Gang show up to cheer for Lebron and Co.
But then the cameos take a weird turn. Pennywise – seriously, who thought a clown who murders children would be good in a kids’ film? The Nuns from Ken Russells’ The Devils, a film so sexually explicit that WB had to make big cuts to it during the 1970s, which was basically the Wild West period of filmmaking – post Hollywood’s Golden Era where people just agreed nothing naughty should be on film and before the 1980s’ invention of the rating system, which at least gave viewers a heads up if they were about to watch something naughty.
Perhaps the strangest of the strange cameos are the Droogs. Keep in mind that noted skunk pervert Pepe LePew was cancelled, forever banned from the Loony Tunes line up. Those unfamilar? He was a skunk who spoke with a French accent who fancied himself the world’s greatest lover. In each of his toons, a female black cat would accidentally be painted with a white stripe down her back, thus fooling Pepe into thinking there was a hot lady skunk afoot. The Pepester would then pursue the female cat with reckless abandon, refusing to take no for an answer, constantly hitting on her and usually getting clobbered to funny effect in the process.
All I can say is once upon a time, context existed. Pepe never existed to say that men who act like him are to be admired – far from it. He was a character used to make fun of such men and show how ridiculous they are and how women are reviled by them.
But all 2020s Twitter saw was a pervert skunk…so be it. The stinky twerp was cut from the film. I mean, a good writer could have drummed up a quick take where Pepe is called into WB Studios and told that he’s being fired for being a problematic, socially unacceptable pervert skunk (I thought I read somewhere they tried something like that but even a scene where Pepe is shown as problematic would be problematic apparently.)
Where was I? Ah, yes. The Droogs. Have you seen Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Don’t. It will warp your mind. It focuses on mind control experiments where the government tries to wash all violent, sexual and evil thoughts and actions from London’s criminal gangs. One such gang, the long john wearing, bowler hat sporting Droogs, conduct a home invasion where they abduct a poor, unsuspecting woman and do horrible things to her.
I won’t belabor the point but like so many who have already opined on this, I find it odd that the pervert skunk had to go, so awful was he that he couldn’t be included even with a joke about him being a pervert skunk, but a gang of brutal rapists, also from the 1970s pre MPAA ratings period, were placed front and center at the b-ball court.
No one seemed to find it odd that Game of Thrones cameos were included. On one level, dragons and white walker zombie cameos are fun and ostensibly kid friendly, just as long as kids don’t ask their parents if they can watch Game of Thrones…because that surely isn’t a show for kids.
Overall, I could go on and on about this point. Warner Bros wants to flash all of its kid characters on screen? Sure. Have it. Flintstones? Jetsons? Scooby? Bring it on. But leave the cameos from adult movies and shows at home. The adults won’t find them that interesting and won’t want to have to explain who that is and who that is to kids who are better off not knowing who they are.
Alas, I can picture the thought process of the WB suits (who, to their credit, are also parodied). “Sure we can cancel Pepe the Pervert Skunk but…WHAT?! You want the Droogs out of the movie?! But someone might see it and want to watch it and then we’ll make more money!”
Which just goes to show that Pepe LePew could have gotten away with sexually harassing poor, unsuspecting white stripe painted female felines for decades to come as long as he made Hollywood money. Disagree? Research the Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby cases and get back to me.
STATUS: Shelf worthy. I applaud it’s good message where Lebron advises his son that whatever he wants to achieve in life, he needs to put in the work. An early scene shows a young, unfocused teenage Lebron who almost lost a game due to a lack of focus, a mistake he vows to never again make, thus leading to his success. Focus and hard work. You won’t get far with out either.
There’s also the inevitable lesson for kids who feel pressure from their parents to choose a career path they aren’t interested in, to abandon a dream that seems unlikely. Lebron and Dom lock horns as Lebron wants his son to follow in his b-ball footsteps, while Dom dreams of becoming a video game creator. (I mean, not exactly relatable as most kids might dream of being a b-ball star or a video game creator but instead, their parents want them to go to plumbing school to learn how to install toilets or something, but you get the gist.)
But I must knock off 1 million shelf points because many of the villain cameos were inappropriate and ill advised. Warner, you aren’t Disney, ergo, you might have a Warnerverse, but leave the murderous kid killing clowns and roving gangs of 1970s London based rapists in the vault.
And you know what? Adults don’t really want to see this stuff in a lighthearted kids’ movie either. I get sometimes writers/producers of these movies will throw in the occasional joke that will sail right over the kids’ heads and make the adults laugh as a thank you to those who bought the tickets, but do adults who signed up to watch a movie about Bugs Bunny and Lebron James playing basketball want to see murderous clowns and rapists and evil nuns and so on in the background? No. No we do not. WB should have asked a focus group that question and would have easily found the answer is no.
Want to feel old? The star of Space Jam 3 probably hasn’t even been born yet, or at least hasn’t started playing ball. Here’s hoping I’ll be alive to make fun of the third installment in another 25 years.