Retro Review: ‘Space Jam’


Director:

Cast: Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Bill Murray, Billy West, Dee Bradley Baker, Bob Bergen, Danny DeVito

Plot: In order to prevent aliens from enslaving them as entertainers, the Looney Tunes recruit Michael Jordan to help them defeat the invaders in a game of basketball.

Review: I haven’t seen this movie since the 1990s, and I’m consistently baffled as to why this movie maintains such a high level of status in popular culture. I revisited it with the kids and they kept drifting away to do other things. It’s considered to be an untouchable classic, something that capture lightning in a bottle so effectively that its peaks could never again be reached. It’s not even being sustained by the kind of meme humour that keeps Shrek in the lexicon. Space Jam receives a weirdly high level of praise from those who grew up with it and those of the younger generation. It’s often touted as being the “highest earning Looney Tunes and basketball movie”, as though those are records people care about.

Here’s the thing though: it’s a bad movie. It’s silly and poorly made. Much like The Phantom Menace it gets a pass by many people. The entire premise of so thin, and they have no idea how to maintain any degree of momentum. Everything is convoluted and padded out, which every needless scene and gag being stretched to the point of tediousness. The plot comes from a series of advertisements for shoes that saw Michael Jordan playing basketball with Bug Bunny. This is a concept substantial enough for a 30 second ad, not a full length movie. And it shows.

They try so very hard to put off the final basketball game. This should be easy when you’ve got the full catalogue of Looney Tunes available to you, but instead we spend more time with a stiff and awkward Michael Jordan going about his day-to-day routine. They even add no-stakes obstacles for the heroes, such as Daffy and Bugs going on a quest to get Michael’s shoes for him. There’s some good slapstick action during the big game at the end, but we spend a ridiculous amount of time cutting back to a couple of basketball players awkwardly delivering some lines in a sub-plot that goes nowhere. The final scene with these side characters (who never interact with the Looney Tunes) goes for an uncomfortably long time.

Key members of the animation team, who produced incredible amounts of content in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, have talked about the shoddy production, with the live action team putting very little effort into planning ahead for the animation. Rather they filmed Jordan playing on a green screen with green suited actors with the instructions to ‘fix it up’. It’s unclear how much footage was unusable by the animation team. The end result is one where the live action characters never feel like they’re part of the animated word. If you’ve seen the new Tom and Jerry movie, it’s almost on par with that.

Then there’s the character of Lola Bunny, a bland and uncomfortable new addition to the animated cast seemingly created to ‘sex up’ the ol’ Looney Tunes cast. She has no personality except to be ogled by the male characters. The only notable thing about Lola is the weird number of people complaining that she doesn’t have breasts in the upcoming sequel. It’s surprising how many people were willing to make it public that they like the highly sexualised cartoon bunny to a disappointing degree.

Not that Lola is the only uncomfortable aspect in the movie. There’s a bit where Bill Murray accuses Michael Jordan of saying he wouldn’t be a good basketball player because he’s white. Racially based humour isn’t a problem unto itself, context and intention is important, but it’s weird finding it in a kids movie.

When we get down to it, this is an advertisement. It’s as much an advertisement as the McDonalds attempt to cash-in on E.T., Mac and Me. It’s a bit weird how many people are surprised by this, considering Wayne Knight enters a scene just to deliver one line – and that one line mentions McDonalds, Nikes, Hanes, Gatorade and Wheaties. Five brands in one sentence.

So this remains a rather soulless mess, but maybe the sequel will have some creativity. Even it it does look like they were making Ready Player Two but pivoted when they saw the public response to the book.

Rating: THREE out of TEN