(KGET) — LeBron James may be the king of the basketball court but when it comes to making movies, someone needs to charge him with a technical foul. His updated take on the beloved “Space Jam” movie with “Space Jam: A New Legacy” starts out painfully dull and only manages to rise to mediocrity in the second half.
LeBron James – struggling to play himself – and his young son Dom (Cedric Joe) get pulled into a digital world that is being run by AI G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Dom – who has created a basketball video game – is desperately trying to earn respect and love from his father.
Rhythm takes advantage of that and sets up a basketball game in the cyber world. If James and his team win, all goes back to normal. If he loses, then everyone will be stuck in the cyber world forever.
It’s father versus son. James puts together a team of familiar faces from the Looney Toons world to be his team. Dom creates his Goons team by making modified versions of real professional basketball players.
Director Malcom D. Lee is in no hurry for James to recruit Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner and others to play in the game. The majority of the first half of the film is the long and painful narrative setting up the father-son situation and the recruiting trips to several cartoon worlds.
James doesn’t have the acting skills to make his role as an overbearing father come across as real. He gives it a good try but it is like trying to shoot a three-pointer from outside the arena. No matter the effort, the attempt comes up short.
The recruiting trip is just the start of what becomes the biggest distraction of the movie. The lengthy list of writers who worked on this production have given up any legitimate plot angles and opted for a relentless series of cameos and guest spots.
This reaches an annoying level when the game starts as the background of every scene is filled with a cast of characters from the Warner Bros. world. There are so many recognizable background characters that it is easy to forget about the central focus of the game.
Compounding the problem is that the background characters never look like they are part of the film. Everything from reactions to where they are looking is not in sync with the main story. This might be fun when the movie hits DVD and Blu-ray as the scene can be paused to play a game to spot the famous character. Watching it in real time is the same as going to a professional basketball game and all of the seats are filled with cardboard cutouts.
The distractions wouldn’t have been as noticeable if the acting and story had been better. Setting up this cartoon-meets-real-world basketball game is only a slight variation on the original “Space Jam.” Granted, there are only so many avenues that can be taken when dealing with a basketball game but the best solution would have been to not try to make a new version.
An army of writers can come up with little more than having Daffy get his bill shot off, Taz spinning out of control and Tweety Bird being eaten. Those bits have been funny for decades but bring nothing original to this film.
The stiffness James brings to the role is balanced by Cheadle whose over-the-top performance sails higher than Richard Branson’s recent space flight. This is the kind of role that needed someone who can come across with comical villainy. The latest “Boss Baby” movie got that right by casting Jeff Goldblum as the evil mastermind.
Cheadle’s problem was overacting while Sonequa Martin-Green – stepping into the role of Mrs. James – is given nothing to do except to carry her daughter around. She sees her family digitized and her reaction is so subdued it is close to her being asleep.
If this is what passes for “A New Legacy” then it is time to let the line end. A lifeless script, amateurish acting and an over dependence on filling the background with familiar extras add up to a losing effort.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is in theaters and can be seen through the streaming service of HBO Max until Aug. 15. That’s two ways to skip this foul shot at a film.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy”
1 1/2 stars
Cast: LeBron James, Cedric Joe, Sonequa Martin-Green, Don Cheadle, Ceyair J Wright.
Director: Malcom D. Lee
Rated: PG for cartoon violence, language