Come on and slam, and welcome to the jam (of product placement)
Space Jam is one of the most iconic films of the 90s. With everything getting a remake or reboot (Animaniacs, Full House, and Rugrats all come to mind when it comes to recent 90s revivals/remakes), it may only seem logical that Space Jam gets similar treatment. After all, we’re nostalgic for the 90s, and a film that grossed $250 million worldwide that paired one of the cartoon world’s most iconic characters with basketball’s best player seems like a recipe for success, right?
The pairing of another NBA great with the 81-year-old cartoon icon had many obstacles to overcome to get to this stage. First off, the Looney Tunes cast hasn’t been in a theatrically-released movie since 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, while the film stalled in development hell since its official announcement back in 2014. There was also a massive redesign of the Looney Tunes cast. Controversies arose regarding the removal of Pepe Le Pew and the redesign of Lola Bunny from the original film as the movie came closer to release.
The plot centers around a fictionalized LeBron himself, whose previous acting experiences included playing himself in the 2015 film Trainwreck and a cameo in the HBO series Entourage. LeBron’s son, Dominic (Cedric Joe), is an aspiring video game developer, but LeBron prefers that his son follow in his footsteps and play basketball. When LeBron rebuffs a proposed movie deal with Warner Bros., the movie’s main villain, Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, a pun on the word algorithm), kidnaps Dom and has LeBron come to virtual reality to save his son.
Watching the movie in theaters, it became painfully obvious to me (not so much the new generation of kids watching the movie) that LeBron’s acting skills are remedial at best and out of place with the supporting cast. Don Cheadle, whose acting career goes back to the year of LeBron’s birth, stands out here. Cheadle was a great choice for a villain given that he has acting experience in numerous film genres. A great supporting cast seems to mask LeBron’s acting ability, although he has room to improve if Warner Bros. considers a sequel or TV series.
My major criticism with this film is the out-of-control product placement. Sure, it’s one thing if an actor in a movie or TV series is drinking Coca-Cola or wearing Gucci products, but this film advertises almost everything under the Warner Bros. umbrella, including well-known franchises such as DC Comics and Harry Potter. There are even throwbacks that kids or even their parents would not recognize, such as A Clockwork Orange and Casablanca. For good measure, Warner Bros. tosses in a Rick and Morty appearance, a show that is anything but family-friendly.
While COVID-19 has certainly changed the dynamic of the film industry, this film managed to rake in close to $32 million in its opening weekend. The humor is nothing reminiscent of classic Looney Tunes fare and seems to push the cartoon characters that generations of audiences have enjoyed into the background. Had they combined the comedy these classic characters provide without the tidal wave of product placement, it would have hit a lot better and perhaps introduce yet another generation of kids to the classic and entertaining Looney Tunes experience.