There’s a basketball showdown at the end of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” that may make you question the film’s motives.
There, cheering on LeBron James and his son Dom are countless Warner Bros. stars – many inappropriate for a family film.
Are they there to make Warner a Disney-level player? Or did Danny DeVito’s Penguin and the Adam West Batman just need time out of the vault?
The real stars – Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck among them – are part of LeBron’s team when he squares off with Dom (Cedric Joe) in a game arranged by Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), ruler of the “server-verse.”
Father and son wind up there when they visit the studio to talk about the basketball player’s options. When Dom wanders where he shouldn’t, Al G. steps in and delivers the ground rules. LeBron has to recruit a team. That brings in the Looney Tunes stalwarts. They get a 3-D-ish upgrade and a more adult sensibility.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, “Space Jam 2” doesn’t quite know how to please all sectors of the family audience. A few lines go over kids’ heads but references to “A Clockwork Orange” and “Casablanca” could escape parents, too.
What resonates is the father/son relationship, particularly when the fictionalized James realizes he shouldn’t try to determine his son’s path. Dad thinks Dom needs to play basketball; son wants to create video games.
There’s a divide but it’s not so great that the players can’t cross it. Bugs gets the biggest exposure; Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya) wins style points.
The “evil” players on the “Goon Squad” go through the paces, but they’re not unbeatable. When you see how Lee gets the “Tune Squad” to rally, you’ll realize the film’s story is about as universal as, well, Woody Woodpecker.
Lee gets plenty of buy-in from numerous “brands” (could Michael Jordan be one of them?) but his biggest strength is letting Cheadle show more sides than a Rubik’s Cube. He’s amazingly good as the bad A.I. and brings life to a game that’s impossible to score.
While this “Space Jam” doesn’t have a soundtrack as good as the original one, it does boast better animation.
James is a little stiff as an actor (he was better in “Trainwreck” and seems uncomfortable as a demanding dad), but he comes through in the clinch and shows why there’s no better player if the game had to be updated.
Because this will likely sell a lot of merchandise and do well at the box office, you can bet it’s not “game over” even when the film ends. “That’s all folks” may be a great catchphrase, but it’s definitely not a business plan, no matter who’s playing.