Monday, March 3, 2014

Ugh, Camp! Space Jam Is A Ridiculous Sports/Science Fiction Film!

The Good: Performances are all right
The Bad: Silly live action/animation blends, No character development, Ridiculous plot
The Basics: Michael Jordan makes a big public relations push with Space Jam, which is an otherwise worthless movie.

My wife and I have very different tastes in movies, but one thing I have noticed is we both have some attachments to films that were very much a part of our respective childhoods. So, some of the movies I used to sell, rolling my eyes the entire time, when I was working at a department store in college are some of her childhood favorites. There are movies she loves that were released after the time it would have been age appropriate for them to garner my attention. I feel like Space Jam, which was beloved by the boy I babysat in high school and afterward, was one such film. Recently, my wife was on a nostalgia trip and had me watch it with her.

And wow, is it terrible! As rumors of Space Jam 2 abound, watching Space Jam might well be the best argument against making a sequel. While at the time, Space Jam might have played as an audacious sports comedy that blended live-action and animated components, it has aged poorly. Now, it stands as a pretty pathetic advertisement for Michael Jordan – not the person, so much as the brand. In Space Jam, Michael Jordan is a brand, a corporate entity and the film takes autobiographical elements of the famous basketball player’s life and combines them with a goofy story of space aliens. The thing is, from a branding perspective, Space Jam is troublingly brilliant. Instead of looking like a basketball player who had the arrogance to assume his talent naturally extended into other sports – namely baseball - Space Jam characterizes Michael Jordan as a man who became successful enough to follow his dreams, fail at them, and then return legitimately to doing the thing he loved and made him a superstar in the first place.

In deep space, the planet of Moron Mountain is run by Swackhammer. Swackhammer’s interstellar amusement park needs some new entertainment and he believes the Looney Tunes would ideal. He sets his henchmen, the Nerdlucks, to conscript Bugs Bunny and his pals to come work for him. The Nerdlucks are very small and Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester the cat, and Daffy Duck are not at all threatened by them. In his arrogance, Bugs agrees to a competition against the Nerdlucks with the freedom of the Looney Tunes in the balance. Bugs Bunny chooses basketball.

When the competition is named, the Nerdlucks reveal their true powers. They begin absorbing the basketball talents of people like Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing and they grow to monstrous sizes. So menaced, Bugs Bunny turns to Michael Jordan for aid. Jordan, who is trying to seriously focus on his baseball career, is initially uninterested in creating a basketball team with the Looney Tunes. But, seeing his friends lose their skills, some cajoling from Bill Murray (who wants to play on the same team as Jordan) and the desire to avoid Stan Podolak lead Michael Jordan to put on the jersey again and return to basketball.

Space Jam is very much a kid’s movie. Children are the only ones likely to be at all surprised about the plot or character direction of Space Jam and not be insulted by the product promotion and blatant Brand Jordan feel of the film. Frankly, the film is insulting to sports fans, film aficionados, and black people. The stereotypes in Space Jam are troubling. The fictional representation of Michael Jordan is “keeping it real” with the urban demographic by having collard greens cooked for him by the lady of the house.

That said, the acting in Space Jam is not terrible. Bill Murray and the basketball players – including Michael Jordan – are essentially playing themselves, so they don’t have to stretch. But the live actors interface with the virtual characters flawlessly. The cartoon characters look utterly ridiculous in the real world (one suspects that Space Jam 2 would feature characters that have a CG feel to them), but the actors get their eyelines right for making it appear like they are actually interacting with the animated characters.

Ultimately, Space Jam was a sign of the times; Michael Jordan wanted to return to playing basketball and, after his very public retirement, he had to prove he was still a draw. Space Jam has him playing basketball against animated monsters and if he can take them, of course he can hold his own against humans. Groan.

For other films that mix live action and animated characters, please visit my reviews of:
Looney Toons: Back In Action


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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