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Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)::rating::2.5::rating::2.5

Space JamA New Legacy is actually the same legacy, just grafted onto a different superstar and sharpened with better CGI.  Beyond that, something downright weird is going on in this film:  Jam Deux seems to be a cinematic manifestation of Warner Bros. massive inferiority complex.  It’s not enough that they remind us they’re the company that birthed the Looney Tunes and bankrolled the original Space Jam.  No–this entire movie is some kinda insecure humblebrag that plays like a gushing tour of the Warner backlot.  Did you know that this is the studio that owns Batman, Superman, the Iron Giant, Harry Potter, Yogi Bear, Game of ThronesRick and MortyA Clockwork Orange, Mad Max, and King Kong?  If you didn’t, you will before this onslaught of propaganda is over!

And I get it.  Product placement has been around for so long, it’s really not even a thing anymore.  But this is…different.  It’s almost like an insecure nitwit aggressively fishing for a compliment on Facebook.  C’mon, y’all.  You’re good enough, smart enough, and–doggone it–people like you!  I’m not sure I’ve seen a movie in more desperate need of a supportive hug.

Now that I’m outta breath from ranting, let’s break down Bron’s Jamboree, shall we?  Like its predecessor, Legacy begins with a flashback that tries to play up that its superhuman protagonist was once a kid who came from somewhere.  It’s the late 90s, and Lebron (Stephen Kankole plays the teenage version) is a burgeoning teenage superstar who desperately tries to shrug off the distractions of childhood and hone his championship mentality.

Cut to the present, and we can see all the dividends paid by that focus and determination.  By 2021, Lebron James is an NBA champion, global icon, and business mogul.  And, much like MJ before him, Bron also has a (fictionalized) family at home. We see him still finding his way as a husband and father. Dom (Cedric Joe), his youngest son, doesn’t want to follow his famous dad into basketball, opting for video game design instead.  Lebron mishears this as a lack of drive, and insists his son attend a basketball camp and recommit himself to the game.

This sounds like a great time for a supervillain to giggle and rub his hands together.  Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, this had to have been a monstar paycheck) is an insidious, insecure piece of AI who wants to take over the world.  He nabs the basketball video game that Dom is working on, kidnaps the boy, and disappears into the cartoon abyss.  As anyone who’s seen the first film–or really any film–can guess, Bron has to recruit our favorite tuners and win back his son on the basketball court.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this sounds exactly like the first movie.  And it is–so much, in fact, that the characters often joke about what a retread Jam 2 feels like.  Such self-deprecation seems like a clever screenwriting gimmick–an attempt to validate how lazy all this story really is.  It’s kinda like how people announce that they don’t mean to be an asshole, and then proceed to be the biggest asshole in a 100-mile radius.  Calling attention to the misdeeds doesn’t excuse them:  A New Legacy is a blatant Xerox of the first Jam, and no amount of smirking and winking will change that.

What’s strange is how all this copying and pasting doesn’t come close to Space Jam‘s success.  No doubt, Jordan’s film was a well-molded product, but it also had a shambling charm and a quirky, deft sense of humor that helped distract from the weightlessness of its storytelling.  And it clocked in at a tidy 88 minutes, and for a cartoon basketball scrimmage, that’s probably about right.  In contrast, Legacy is almost 30 minutes longer, and feels like it.  Lebron’s version is overstuffed with gags that don’t land and too many obnoxious celeb cameos to count.  All this adds up to a movie that’s louder, busier, and less.

It’s a shame, because Lebron actually beats MJ for onscreen charisma.  He’s a much more affable superstar, who seems to be driven by a genuine need to be likable.  That puts him in sharp contrast to both Jordan and Kobe, who were both too razor-focused on demolishing their opponents to concern themselves with gaining votes for Prom King.  LBJ may not be much as an actor, but he has a genuine personality that comes across on film.  With better material, it stands to reason that the King could’ve given us the best Jam yet.  Instead, we’re stuck with a movie that makes the critical mistake of reminding us of better characters in better movies.  Hey, did you know that Warner Bros. produced Casablanca?  You do now.

115 min.  PG.  HBOMax.

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