“Space Jam: A New Legacy” — ★ ★
“I’ve never seen anything like this!” a sports announcer proclaims in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
Obviously, he missed “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Ready Player One,” and two “Tron” movies, one of which also claims to be a “Legacy” production.
Six writers receive credit for creating “New Legacy,” which barely upgrades the plot from Joe Pytka’s original 1996 “Space Jam,” featuring Bill Murray and Michael Jordan in a zany live-action/animation mash-up during which His Airness helps the Looney Tunes cartoon characters defeat villainous aliens in a basketball game, all in a tidy 87 minutes.
If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, “New Legacy” – five minutes short of two chaotically undisciplined hours — dispenses with both.
The sequel, directed by Malcolm D. Lee, features LeBron James as the resident basketball superstar, set up to challenge a mysterious, sentient A.I. being named Al-G Rhythm (an affably evil Don Cheadle in luminous wardrobe creations) on a video-game-inspired virtual basketball court in the Warner Bros. “server-verse.”
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LeBron wants his fictional young son, Dom (Cedric Joe), to follow in his basketball shoe footsteps, but Dom loves video games and has no interest in dribbling away his dreams.
When LeBron rejects Al-G’s perfectly ridiculous idea for a Warner 3000 project — to digitally insert LeBron into every Warner Bros. TV and movie property ever made — the egomaniacal A.I. guy zaps LeBron and Dom into his digital realm where the two are forced to play against each other in a basketball contest between the Goons and the Tunes.
LeBron’s wife Kamiyah (Sonequa Martin-Green) gets little to do beyond scowl and keep her husband in line while being the stern family boss. (When Dom can’t hear her during the noisy big game, Kamiyah defiantly warns, “I’m his mother! He’d better hear me!”)
“New Legacy” strip-mines the entire Warner Bros. cartoon and live-action libraries in its quest for engaging content, reducing formidable icons of cinema and television (including King Kong and Superman) to comical cameo appearances or the butt of meta-jokes.
Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman), the Amazonian Lola Bunny (Zendaya) and Daffy Duck (Eric Bauza) dominate the Tunes cast, some of whom become gratuitously sandwiched into live-action Warner films, such as Elmer Fudd popping in as Mini-Me in an “Austin Powers” scene and Yosemite Sam playing the piano in “Casablanca.”
“New Legacy” mistakes quantity for quality as it piles on sight gags, puns and visual effects, some of them quite accomplished, including an inspired moment in which old-school 2-D Tunes transform into sleek, 3-D computer-animated versions of themselves.
But seriously, couldn’t the movie do without Porky Pig performing a rap number?
If there is a surprise here, it would be James’ comfortable presence as an actor. He can’t really do emotions, but he possesses a true Cary Grant quality, not in charm or looks, but in approach to character.
As Grant once observed, “I play me to perfection!”