I remember in the summer of 2015 when I went to see the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck. The film had Schumer, Bill Hader and John Cena among the cast, but it also featured a supporting role from LeBron James, playing a version of himself. He was an absolute delight.
James was the best thing in that film and gave one of the best performances of that year. I unironically argued he should be considered for a Supporting Actor nod. I was excited to see him in something else. And it wasn’t long before we started hearing rumblings about him taking the lead in a new Space Jam.
The original Space Jam film came in 1996—at the height of the run for the Chicago Bulls—and featured Michael Jordan playing a high stakes basketball game alongside Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes. It was also something of a send up of the baseball interlude in Jordan’s career, and a bit of an advertisement for the Looney Tunes and Jordan’s greatness on the court.
By the time the film bowed in November of 1996, Jordan had long-since returned to the Bulls and had already won another NBA championship. As a film, it was just under 90 minutes and kept things light. Wayne Knight and Bill Murray popped in to ham it up, and other famous basketball players like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing made appearances. It wasn’t great but it was a decently entertaining film.
This new one—Space Jam: A New Legacy—follows largely the same formula, dropping James into the middle of the action. It begins with a scene of him as a youth then runs through his career highlights—including championships with the Miami Heat, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Lakers. Then it drops the action into the present, where James and his son, Dom (Cedric Joe), have different ideas of where Dom’s focus should be. James wants his son to focus on his skills on the court, while Dom’s passion is coding video games, something for which he has great talent.
Soon, the two become trapped, prisoners of a new Warner Brothers algorithm named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Al is frustrated with James’ lack of interest in the new film plan he created and decides to manipulate Dom into playing a high stakes game of basketball against his father, who is banished to Toon World to recruit a team.
Films like this aren’t about the plot, they’re about the experience. James is a great basketball player, and there’s never a doubt this one is going to end in a game of basketball where James and the tunes are down but mount a huge comeback. What keeps people interested in the journey, and that’s where this film falls apart.
James is capable of delivering fun performances, but the script and direction here mute all that and leave him stiff, like he’s going through the motions. This film is much longer than the original, to its detriment, and lacks personality and punch. Cheadle is having fun as the primary antagonist, but even his schtick wears thin by the end of its 115-minute run time.
The new Space Jam is a chore from beginning to end, and one of the worst movies I’ve seen so far in 2021. It falls well short of the original and can be safely skipped.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.