At some point during 'Space Jam: A new legacy', you will realise that what you are watching is a feature-length advertisement. And after you arrive at that point, you will move on to the next distraction: What is it an advertisement for?
Could it be a $150 million sizzle reel created by WarnerMedia to appease investors? Is it something that LeBron James thought would help him sell more sneakers? Or is it merely a flex; something that exists just because it could?
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After all, the original 'Space Jam', which released in 1996, itself was a merchandising opportunity first and a film later. Had it not been for Michael Jordan's popular Nike commercials featuring Bugs Bunny, no sweaty studio executive would have even thought of putting the two of them in a movie together.
The success of that film, whose cynical-minded origins were lost (understandably) on the kids that enjoyed it on TV and VHS, served as an alley-oop for LeBron, who has been involved in the sequel for what seems like years now.
But despite having filled Jordan's shoes quite successfully on the basketball court, he is barely able to hold his own on screen, which would come as a surprise to anyone who saw him in Judd Apatow's 'Trainwreck'.
In 'Space Jam: A new legacy', King James appears to be in a perpetual knife-fight with not just his limited range as a screen performer, but also with invisible lawyers and publicists that always seem to be lurking off-screen, glaring at him sinisterly.
There is a fear that permeates the very bones of this movie, like it has been stewed in a vat of sewer water overnight — I deliberately did not mention the word 'soul', because 'Space Jam 2' does not have one.
Burdened as it is with pleasing just about everybody and their mother, it is terrified of stepping out of bounds. LeBron has an image to maintain, and while better actors than him have succeeded for decades at doing just that, they have also been lucky enough to not have to star in 'Space Jam 2'.
This is a film so bad that I have seen actual television commercials with more artistic value. I will take it a step further, I have seen actual television commercials for Nike shoes that have more artistic value.
I do not know if it is plain stupidity or just oversight, but the whole thing hinges on the premise that Warner Bros — a studio that owns everything from 'Game of Thrones' and 'Harry Potter' to 'The Matrix' and 'Casablanca' — makes movies by having an algorithm crunch data and spit out its recommendations.
Did they not spot the irony? Do they not realise that the existence of a 'Kissing Booth' trilogy and two rival projects inspired by Tiger King proves that computers are already deciding what gets made and what does not?
If the original Space Jam was the natural culmination of 1990s excess, then 'Space Jam 2' is a movie befitting of the apocalyptic environment in which it has been released.
The plot remains roughly the same, as if even the bot that barfed it out could not be bothered to put its back into it. A star athlete is sucked into a fantasy world where they must participate in a basketball game against cartoons, with cartoons. While the stakes were unnecessarily heightened in the first film, they are more personal this time around.
LeBron does not have to save the world, but he does have to save his relationship with his son. There is an interesting movie about parenthood in there somewhere, especially Black parenthood.
But neither director Malcolm D Lee nor his team of six — yes, six — screenwriters is able to find it. One of those six writers is Terence Nance, who was originally hired to direct before being booted off the project because his vision did not align with the studio's. He even filmed a few scenes, and in one interview said that Space Jam 'is going to disrupt everything'.
What is even more confounding is that none other than Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, is a producer on this, sort of like Ivan Reitman was on the first one. Anyway, neither is 'Space Jam 2' going to disrupt anything other than your equilibrium, nor does it even remotely resemble anything that Coogler has done in the past. It will, however, make you wonder how things could have gone so wrong.
It is not impossible to make a good movie despite the demands of capitalism. Just ask Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the patron saints of turning bad ideas into bankable franchises. There is no way that they were not approached to direct this, unless Warner Bros and LeBron were determined to have a person of colour be at the helm, which is also a very real possibility.