I’ll say this for the Big Game sequence in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” that goes on and on and on and ON:
I’ve never seen anything like it. I also hope to never see anything like it again, and I wish I could unsee what I HAVE seen.
Here’s the deal. We’re inside a virtual world known as the Warner Bros. Server-Verse, with LeBron James and the Looney Tunes gang a.k.a. the Tune Squad taking on the evil Goon Squad, and the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Every single one of LeBron’s millions of followers on social media has been sucked into this vortex — and if the Toon Squad loses, they’ll all be trapped in the Server-Verse forever.
Ah, but the best courtside spots for the game are occupied by a myriad of characters from the Warner Bros. vault, including Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West; various iterations of Batman, Robin, Catwoman, the Joker and the Penguin; Agent Smith from “The Matrix,” Stanley Ipkiss/the Mask; White Walkers from “Game of Thrones,” etc., etc. These hologram-looking creations aren’t the actual actors from the aforementioned projects; they’re approximations that jump up and down and cheer, and often seem as if they’re not looking directly at the action. Throughout the game, during the action sequences and especially during the timeouts and strategy sessions, the “celebrity” fans are a huge distraction — and making things even more bizarre, their numbers include Pennywise the Clown from “It” and the murderous, rapist gang known as the Droogs from “A Clockwork Orange.”
Who in the name of Bugs Bunny thought this was a good idea? Has no one on the Warner Bros. lot actually SEEN “A Clockwork Orange”?
As was the case with the fondly remembered (by some) but quite mediocre “Space Jam” from 1996, the spiritual sequel isn’t so much a movie as it is a product placement mashup utilizing the technology of the day to combine live action with animation, with a slow buildup to a climactic hoops contest that lasts longer than the final minutes of an NBA playoff game. After a prologue set in Akron in 1998, with young LeBron James learning a valuable lesson about staying focused, we go to “The James Residence, Los Angeles, Present Day,” with LeBron (played by LeBron James, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t have to audition for the role) at odds with his son Dom (Cedric Joe), because Dad wants his son to concentrate on his basketball potential while Dom is all about video games and virtual reality, and has in fact created a badass basketball video game that favors fun over fundamentals. If only there was some way for the well-meaning but rigid LeBron to open his eyes and let his son follow his own path!
Conveniently enough, LeBron takes Dom to a meeting at Warner Bros. studios, where a rogue artificial intelligence entity known as Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, a great actor who is miscast as the comedic/evil villain) has created a program that will insert LeBron into any and all company properties, e.g., there’s LeBron playing Quidditch at Hogwarts! LeBron says it’s an awful idea, one of the worst ideas he’s ever heard, and he rejects the pitch — and then the movie pursues the exact same path after acknowledging it’s a terrible concept.
LeBron and Dom are sucked into a virtual universe filled with Warner Bros. properties, and that’s exactly what “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mad Max,” “Game of Thrones,” et al., feel like — properties to be exploited, not works to be treasured. As Al-G Rhythm (ugh, that name) co-opts Dom by pretending to be his friend and encouraging his dreams, LeBron and Bugs Bunny round up the Looney Tunes gang, all of whom have been inserted into — you guessed it — Warner Bros. properties, e.g., Daffy Duck is in a Superman adventure in Metropolis, Yosemite Sam is at Rick’s Café from “Casablanca,” Lola Bunny is about to take the speed and endurance test to become an Amazon a la “Wonder Woman.” With the exception of a few clever one-liners and visual gags, it’s more exhausting than amusing.
Because we need some excuse to get LeBron and the Looney Tunes gang on the virtual court against Dom and an All-Star collection of pro basketball stars such as Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Nneka Ogwumike, Diana Taurasi and Klay Thompson — all of whom have been turned into hybrid animated figures with superpowers — the evil Al-G Rhythm proposes the aforementioned challenge. If the good guys win, the players and the fans will be allowed to leave this virtual world behind and return to their lives. If they lose, the humans will be trapped in the Server-Verse — and the Tunes will be deleted. The game itself features all sorts of CGI pyrotechnics and even a brief rap interlude featuring Porky Pig as “The Notorious P.I.G.” (sigh), and the visuals can be eye-popping — but then we catch another glimpse of Pennywise clapping or Mr. Smith cheering, and we’re just praying this thing doesn’t go into overtime.