The 1996 live-action/animation mash-up comedy “Space Jam,” in which Michael Jordan met the Looney Tunes crew, has a settled reputation as one of those pictures everybody saw but few critics found satisfactory. (One noteworthy positive review to the contrary.) This did not dissuade Warner Media from constructing a starring vehicle for contemporary basketball titan LeBron James around the same conceit. Only hypertrophied. Naturally.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee from a script by six credited writers, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has a bit more on its hectic mind than its predecessor did. Here James is given a fictional family, in which younger son Dom (Cedric Joe) is more interested in designing video games than in working on layups on the basketball court of the James palace.
This conflict catches the eye of a near-omniscient, sociopathic (but aren’t they all?) algorithm within the Warner “server-verse” in Burbank (where James is being courted by the media giant). Incarnated by Don Cheadle, the ambitious creature (who is called Al G. Rhythm) sucks Dom and LeBron into the vast world of Warner intellectual properties and sets up a high-stakes basketball duel. Hoping to sink the father’s chances, Al saddles LeBron with the beloved zanies Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester et al.
The fevered Oedipal drama strikes some disquieting notes, and Cheadle eventually generates real menace the more he comes to resemble a certain finger snapping supervillain not under Warner copyright. There’s a nearly astute satire of the app-driven life bubbling under the meta high jinks. And the movie throws so many gags at the screen that several jokes actually stick. But the purposeful sensory overload mostly yields head-spinning stupefaction, leaving a viewer feeling like Wile E. Coyote after hitting a mesa wall.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Rated PG for saltier-than-usual cartoon humor. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. In theaters and on HBO Max.
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