REVIEW: Space Jam
Produced by: Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, Daniel Goldberg
Written by: Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Edited by: Sheldon Kahn
Cinematography by: Michael Chapman
Music by: James Newton Howard; Soundtrack produced by R. Kelly
Starring: Michael Jordan, Billy West, Dee Bradley Baker, Danny Devito, Wayne Knight, Bill Murray, Kath Soucie, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, Theresa Randle, Bob Bergen, Bill Farmer, June Foray, Maurice LaMarche, Colleen Wainwright, Frank Welker
Space Jam, that wonderful marketing ploy that fooled audiences into handing over $230 million to a studio for an overlong concoction of advertisements and which made us all love R. Kelly in an innocent time where that was still an acceptable thing to do. Seriously, the film is a commercial for itself – the marketing synergy between the two entities who merged two completely unrelated but massively successful franchises together to resemble something like a movie, and yet that is honestly also the film’s main draw. It asked us a question nobody outside of a corporate think tank would have ever asked in their right mind – “Who doesn’t want to see Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan play basketball together?” – and convinced us that this was, come to think of it, actually something that would be pretty entertaining to watch!
To be fair, the makers of the film found a relatively fun means of making these two ideas work together that remains, within the cartoon sensibilities at least, pretty natural in execution. You see, the plot explains that there’s an alien theme park that needs a new attraction to continue making money, and the only means they see of remaining in business is to pass through the portal that apparently exists within the earth’s core and kidnap the whole cast of Looney Tunes characters and put them on display for their patrons. While the leader of the aliens is a nasty, cigar-smoking corporate suit voiced by Danny DeVito, however, the little aliens doing his bidding aren’t exactly the brightest bunch, and they quickly find themselves negotiating for the Tunes’ freedom, outwitted, naturally, by Bugs Bunny.
However, when it’s decided that they’ll win this through a game of basketball, it turns out the little aliens more than make up for their lack of smarts with their remarkable talent for petty theft – stealing the playing abilities of several NBA greats for themselves and, thus, further fulfilling the movie’s cameo quota. Now outmatched by the mutated aliens, the Looney Tunes must themselves abduct the greatest basketball player of all time in a desperate attempt to save themselves. Enter Michael Jordan, who is going through that short period of time where he decided he was going to be a baseball player. They beg him to help train them for the game, however, to which he agrees, because the movie would never acknowledge that Michael Jordan is apparently a pretty big jerk in real life but who cares so long as he lends his name and likeness to your product. By the end of the film, when everything is predictably back to happy-go-lucky, we learn that Jordan’s time spent with the Looney Tunes not only saved our cartoon friends from never seen by human eyes again, they, in turn, also helped him rekindle his passion for the only sport he was ever truly good at and return to the Chicago Bulls.
Asinine, ain’t it? And yet, surprisingly enough, the film works to the best of its ability in providing us with a serviceable, reasonably entertaining experience. Most of the Looney Tunes you could ever imagine from the classics are here in some capacity, with even more showing up in the background, Where’s Waldo-style. The NBA players chosen to play guest stars to Jordan were obviously chosen for the recognition factor and/or personalities, and they even get some of the movie’s more amusing scenes, as they seek out all matter of remedies and solutions to gain back their lost talents (via montage, naturally). Also, if you thought Zombieland did the surprise Bill Murray cameo first, let me direct your attention here. It may not be better than that movie, but, still, it’s entertaining to see the guy briefly interact with … well, anyone, really, but his wall-breaking exchange with Daffy, which explains his inexplicable presence in the film, earns Space Jam its best, most subtle laugh.
Michael Jordan, to his credit, is also a welcome screen presence, and, while the movie doesn’t really call for him to do much beyond say his lines as only he would say them and interact with cartoon characters who were never really on the set with him, the guy’s experience as a showman (and apparent ball hog) come through for him in the movie. (I got that ball hog joke right, right? I’m not into sports, so I wouldn’t know, honestly. I’m just trying to be knowledgeable and entertaining here.)
The biggest fault, however, really comes from the fact that most of the film relies upon nostalgia and screen presence, but little else. The Looney Tunes characters generally look nice and all in their polished, high budget neo-Chuck Jones designs (except for maybe some overly aggressive shading), but they don’t ever really get a chance to be all that looney and entertaining here, likely because they’re all, basically, collectively losing for much of the film, and we’re supposed to be at least somewhat concerned over that. Genuine drama, in any amount, is not something we’re really used to having associated with these characters, as usually one of them has the advantage over the obnoxious jerk antagonist amongst them. We liked the whole duck season/wabbit season gag because Bugs was a manipulative weasel who served up witty slapstick justice on both the dimwit hunter who wanted to kill him and the selfish duck who would like to keep it that way for his own sake. It’s a bit less amusing when they’re all on the same side and the bad guys are hulking bullies who inflict genuine (though still cartoony) pain without discrimination.
Speaking of which, what’s up with Lola Bunny? This new addition to the Looney Tunes cast is neither looney nor tuney, and her presence just perpetuates that myth that women aren’t funny and are only there for the sultry-voiced eyecandy… which is really disturbing, because she’s still a freaking animated rabbit. The whole seductive temptress thing was a lot more entertaining when it was Bugs in drag.
I’m being a little cynical here, though, and, to be perfectly honest, I still found the film reasonably entertaining in spite of all the corporate stink that emanates from the seams that hold this hodgepodge of a film together. Space Jam holds a special place in the hearts of most kids who were still watching stuff on Nickelodeon by the turn of the century – which probably also accounts for the fact that the original website from 1996 is still up and running! – and hopeful rumors of an upcoming sequel still abound across the internet, most recently claiming that LeBron James is going to be the star this time around. Should that film ever actually come about, and if you hear any murmurs of how Hollywood has run out of original ideas, remind them that it could be worse – just like this film could have been.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5