Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan featured in the original live-action / animation blend Space Jam back in 1996. Now MJ has been replaced by another NBA superstar in LeBron James in the sequel – Space Jam: A New Legacy.
James learnt the hard way that only total commitment will bring rewards. But he feels his youngest son, Dom (Cedric Joe), isn’t giving all he’s got to the basketball career that his dad sees awaiting him. The 12-year-old is much more heavily invested in created a souped-up basketball-based video game. James’ wife, Shanice (Xosha Roquemore), implores him to get on the same page as Dom and to have more empathy. But Dom maintains his dad doesn’t let him be himself. The man about to give Dom that chance is an algorithm (an artificial intelligence) that services the digital world in which all games are played. He – Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) – is after recognition.
When a promotional pitch to King James goes pear-shaped, Al G. Rhythm hatches a plan to manipulate Dom into getting back at his dad. Both Dom and LeBron are sucked into the IT universe and become cartoon figures. Al G. Rhythm’s idea is a winner takes all basketball showdown pitting son against father and that is exactly what transpires, with the odds very much stacked in the son’s favour. Problem is if Dom’s team – the Goons – triumphs against James’ Tunes, all playing and watching will be stuck in the digital universe forever.
Apart from massively overdoing Warner Bros’ name references (surely it didn’t need to be that blatant), the blending of live action with animation is a treat. The characters read like a who’s who of the remarkable studio and the figures associated with it. Some of it is very cleverly done. It’s colourful and moves at pace. My personal highlight came relatively late in the piece when a blast from the past is referenced and expectant eyes (both the characters and the audience) turn to the doorway on screen.
At just a few minutes shy of two hours, A New Legacy is far too long (the first one didn’t even reach an hour and a half and that was a smart move) and the storyline is thin, to say the least. I didn’t buy the obvious, syrupy family ideal, which felt forced. For me, it is really about the CGI and how far that has come in the 25 years since the first instalment. The team involved has done a great job.
Beyond that, I dare say kids who love hoops will lap it up more than I did.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.