‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Movie Review: What a Shame for LeBron James

Space Jam was a rare breed in 1996. It may have been only the second feature film based on a commercial. It didn’t quite spawn a franchise as prolific as Ernest P. Worrell, but 25 years later, Space Jam: A New Legacy is no longer unique, even if they switched LeBron James for Michael Jordan

LeBron James high fives Lola Bunny
LeBron James and Lola Bunny | Warner Bros. Pictures

There have been other commercials turned movies like Uncle Drew, and plenty of movies that combine corporate intellectual properties. Space Jam: A New Legacy is the wrong way to combine disparate IP.

LeBron James has no history with the Looney Tunes 

Before Space Jam, Michael Jordan already starred in Nike commercials with Bugs Bunny. The movie extrapolated on that, for better or worse. It was also barely 80 minutes of footage. Space Jam: A New Legacy is two hours and really reaches. 

Apparently LeBron James (himself) put away his Looney Tunes Game Boy game to focus on basketball. Now he trains his sons on his private basketball court, but Dom (Cedric Joe) really wants to design video games. He has a basketball game in the works, but LeBron wants Dom to focus on basketball like he did. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy animates LeBron James
LeBron James and Bugs Bunny | Warner Bros. Pictures

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When LeBron rejects a pitch conceived by the Warner Bros. algorithm Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), Rhythm wants revenge. So he lures LeBron and Dom into the digital world. He sells Dom on having his gaming ambitions valued, and forces LeBron to play basketball to get him back. It’s 25 minutes before LeBron even finds the Looney Tunes world and meets Bugs Bunny. 

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ jams together IP with no humor

Under the guise of self-parody, Space Jam: A New Legacy includes as much Warner Bros. IP as it can. Al G. Rhythm can bring every Warner Bros. property together. Unfortunately, all the IP jokes are more like Friedberg/Seltzer spoof movies. Yes, we recognize them but just recognizing them isn’t a joke. 

They literally put cartoons and LeBron in existing movie footage. At best it’s like the Oscar sketches with Billy Crystal in nominated movies, but it’s not even as funny as Bruce Vilanch writing sketches They name drop Warner Bros. in the dialogue a lot, too. It’s not seamless. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy -- LeBron James and Tweety scowl
LeBron James and Tweety | Warner Bros. Pictures

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There’s a way to do this. Who Framed Roger Rabbit asked what would happen if Daffy and Donald Duck met. The Lego movies are a kid making up the rules for all their toys. Wreck It Ralph suggested that video game characters were just doing a job, and even its sequel’s expanded IP was based on the world of a MMO environment. 

The superior Looney Tunes: Back In Action used an irreverent Looney Tunes approach to the Warner Bros. backlot. Even Last Action Hero used cameos to ask questions like who would star in Terminator 2 in a Jack Slater movie? This is just “Look, it’s that character! It’s a scene from that movie!” Basically, just: Here’s all our IP. What’s even the point of owning all these characters if you have no creative ideas with them, not even jokes? The only joke that works is a Michael Jordan reference. 

Having fake live action characters is a choice, too. What exactly is the value of a Mask who’s not Jim Carrey or a Matrix agent who’s not Hugo Weaving? Bill Skarsgard can’t be happy with that fake Pennywise.

LeBron James is good in it

To the extent Space Jam: A New Legacy is trying to tell a story, it does slightly touch on family issues. LeBron is good as a well-meaning father who’s a bit too distant from his son’s passions. Yes, he’s playing himself, but remember that’s not his real family. 

Cheadle is giving a real performance and having a blast. He’s the charismatic devil seducing Dom by offering everything he wants, filling in where legitimate neglect left Dom vulnerable. 

LeBron James and Don Cheadle meet in the computer in Space Jam 2
L-R: Cedric Joe, LeBron James and Don Cheadle | Warner Bros. Pictures

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It’s still a green screen movie and not as visionary as a 300 or Sin City. There are barely snippets of the Looney Tunes in their world. The basketball format limited the Looney Tunes in the original Space Jam and it still limits them. There’s so much more to the Looney Tunes than they can exercise on the court. 

Space Jam 1 had the sense to keep it brief, and they had some practical effects like showing Bugs Bunny burrowing through the real world ground. Space Jam: A New Legacy is overlong and overstuffed but has no actual take on all its material.