Review: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ strands LeBron James in a swirling CGI garbage tornado

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In “Space Jam: A New Heritage, ” an increasingly desperate corporate entity has trapped the NBA superstar LeBron James in an elaborate world of ones and zeros, making him to interact with loud-mouthed cartoon characters as part of the tiresome scheme to overcome the digital entertainment surroundings. Am I summarizing the plot or describing the movie’s origins? As the filmmakers themselves know, that’s the wink-wink distinction without a distinction. An early scene, in which Ruler James sits down with a bunch of clueless Warner Bros. executives who want to turn his likeness into an avatar, is meant to make us imagine the real-life pitch conference and titter in identification. So why does it feel like the joke’s on us?

Maybe because we’ve heard some version from it before, and an ultra-spiffy technological upgrade aside, this hasn’t improved with age. Bright, shiny, nostalgia-tickling techno-goop for the whole family, “Space Quickly pull: A New Legacy” is a followup to the 1996 live-action/animation cross “Space Quickly pull, ” which usually put Michael Jordan on an intergalactic basketball court with Insects Bunny because — well, why not? Moviegoers more or less replied in kind, turning that wan comedy into a $250 million worldwide hit plus setting plans for a business in motion. But for any number of factors — Michael jordan passed on a sequel and left behind no obvious Air heir apparent, and 2003’s delightful “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” undeservedly crashed plus burned like a mail-order Extremity rocket — it’s taken 25 years for this reboot to reach.

An animated LeBron James in a scene from "Space Jam: A New Legacy."

An animated LeBron James in a scene from “Space Jam: A New Legacy. ”

(Warner Bros. Entertainment)

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Perhaps the appropriate term is reload, provided the sheer number of sources to “The Matrix, ” among other popular Warner Bros. titles dredged on with this dubious occasion. In contrast to the first “Space Jam, ” “A New Legacy” doesn’t limit itself to Merrie Melodies and Looney Songs. Slickly directed by Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip”) from a script credited to six screenwriters — which usually, by conservative estimate, arrives to about 25 various IP references per writer — the movie comes in you like a hoops-themed riff on “Ready Player One” or “Wreck-It Ralph. ” There are on-screen shoutouts in order to DC Comics stars Batman, Superman and Wonder Female; in-house fantasy juggernauts “Game of Thrones” and Harry Potter; blink-and-you-miss-’em faves like Fred Flintstone, Yogi Carry and the Iron Giant; and apparently not-at-all-sacrosanct classics including “Casablanca, ” “The Wizard of Oz” and “What Ever Occurred to Baby Jane?. ”

Very first, though, the movie shows all of us what ever happened to Child James. (If you didn’t like that, you might hate “Space Jam: A New Legacy. ”) Thirteen-year-old LeBron (Stephen Kankole) is a gifted Ohio baller who early on learns to put away childish things, in order to throw away his Game Youngster and keep his head in the game. And so he grows up to become, well, LeBron James. He or she also becomes an overbearing dad to his children, especially his son Dem (Cedric Joe), who, irony alert, is more interested in developing video games than following in his dad’s Nike-imprinted footsteps. Using the heart-tugging father-vs. -son, dribbling-vs. -coding tensions thus established, LeBron and Dom end up whisked inside the servers from Warner Bros., held attentive by a malicious cyber-demon called Al G. Rhythm (get it? ) who provides hiding for delusions of synergistic grandeur.

Mr. Tempo, played by a scarily dedicated Don Cheadle, seeks to increase his conglomerate’s reach simply by challenging LeBron to an impossibly high-stakes basketball game. Forced to do battle with evil superpowered versions of Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Nneka Ogwumike, among other NBA and WNBA stars, LeBron must, like Jordan just before him, join forces with the Looney Tunes. But things possess changed: Bugs Bunny (voiced, along with several others, by Jeff Bergman) is the last remaining resident of Looney Tunes World, whose hand-drawn forests and deserts recommend a charming throwback to the artistry of the great Chuck Jones .

Some divertingly old-fashioned gags ensue since LeBron, assuming his own two-dimensional animated form, gets a literal crash course in the highly elastic laws of cartoon physics. But soon this individual and Bugs will attempted to track down Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety, Yosemite Sam as well as the gang, all of whom, we find out, have moved on and therefore are now starring in high-concept cross-branding exercises of their own. Cue an extended mash-up montage that sends “Space Jam: A brand new Legacy” hurtling from derivative to flat-out depressing in a rush. How soullessly mercenary is one to movie be? To watch since Wile E. Coyote chases the Roadrunner through “Mad Max: Fury Road, ” or as Granny re-enacts bullet-time martial arts moves through “The Matrix, ” would be to discover the answer.

LeBron James and Bugs Bunny in the movie "Space Jam: A New Legacy."

LeBron James and Bugs Bunny in the movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy. ”

(Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Once the climactic online game begins, LeBron will go back to live-action mode (and the Tunes, to their scary, will become 3-D computer-generated variations of themselves), placing him in direct competition with not just an opposing group but also a fast and relentless visual-effects onslaught. He stands up OK, all things considered. “Athletes performing, that never goes nicely, ” he playfully grouses during that early pitch meeting, but James, an innately likable screen presence, handily disproved that notion years back. He played and parodied himself, terrifically, in the Amy Schumer comedy “Trainwreck, ” a movie that was just as tailored to his ineffable LeBron-ness as this one. In “Trainwreck, ” of course , he had a lot more to interact with — or rather, less — than a mountain of shiny computer-generated junk.

Lighten up, you might think. There’s precedent with this kind of maximalist IP-cribbing vision, right? Surely it’s just an extension of something this specific studio has been doing for a while. Just like the Warner Bros. drinking water tower is a fixture of the American comedy landscape, therefore the studio’s history of sending upward its own brands — as well as the tight proprietary reins it exercises over those brand names — belongs to a very pleased and glorious entertainment tradition. But there’s a world associated with difference between, say, the particular cheeky WB backlot satire of an “Animaniacs” episode — or even the clever content overburden of something like “The Lego Movie” — and any kind of five minutes of “Space Quickly pull: A New Legacy. ” Wisely satirizing and mobilizing your characters, and navigating them past the fourth wall with wit, grace and ethics, requires a genuine love for all those characters and an understanding associated with what they might mean to the audience.

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In “Space Jam: A New Legacy, ” they’re treated as disposable or, worse, interchangeable — scraps of free-floating pop-cultural DNA to be endlessly plus arbitrarily recombined. At simply no point does the movie’s raid on the Warner Bros. vault appear to have been inspired by a desire to do something sincerely clever or inspired along with those properties. The movie is really a big, empty declaration associated with corporate dominance, a whirling CGI tornado that — like a much stupider Tasmanian Devil — ingests, hardly processes and then promptly regurgitates everything in its path. It is Upchuck Jones.

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’

Ranking: PG, for a few cartoon violence and some language

Operating time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Playing: Opens July 16 generally release; also streaming upon HBO Max