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LeBron James may be king of the basketball court, but that title doesn’t transfer to the box office. At least not when it comes to “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
Warner Bros. attempt at recapturing the nostalgic love for the 1996 “Space Jam” helmed by Michael Jordan is a massive air ball in the eyes of critics. The 2021 film, which debuts in theaters and on HBO Max Friday, currently holds a 37% “Rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes from 78 reviews.
While its predecessor also fell flat with critics 25 years ago — it holds a 44% “Rotten” score from 80 reviews — it became a beloved sports comedy, especially with younger audiences.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” may not inspire that same esteem.
“It fills a two-hour hole in the schedule, which will keep parents happy, and it brandishes the brand, which will keep shareholders happy,” wrote Bilge Ebiri in his review of the film for Vulture. “Whether it could have also been a good movie might not have crossed anyone’s mind.”
Helmed by James, “A New Legacy” follows a similar formula to the 1996 film — famous basketball champion gets sucked into the world of the Looney Tunes and must play a high-stakes game of hoops.
In this iteration, James, playing a fictional version of himself, is at odds with his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe), who dreams of being a video game developer instead of a basketball star. While visiting Warner Bros.′ lot to see a new system called Warner 3000, a new technology that can copy James and insert him into different movies and TV, Dom is kidnapped by an evil A.I. by the name of Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle).
In order to save his son, James must team up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the iconic Tune Squad to win a basketball match against AI-G’s digitized champions.
The zany, meta humor that made “Space Jam” endearing is lost in this new edition, critics say. Instead, it is replaced with “shameless” plugs to Warner Bros. massive vault of intellectual property.
“Short of asking audiences point blank to subscribe to HBO Max, ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ is as shameful a display of product placement as one would hope to endure,” wrote James Marsh in his review for South China Morning Post.
Here’s what critics thought of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” ahead of its debut on Friday:
“Here’s the thing about basketball: It is extremely watchable. Here’s the thing about Space Jam: A New Legacy: It’s not,” Mary Sollosi wrote in her review of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” for Entertainment Weekly.
“You will be amazed by how little the basketball game resembles an actual sport, and how hard it is to sit through,” she added.
Sollosi speculates that this new movie exists for only two reasons: for Warner Bros. to flex its massive collection of IP and to build up the legacy of James.
“The studio ostentatiously flips through its library of properties throughout the film, most notably in a series of brief clips of James gathering Tunes who have relocated to ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Austin Powers’ and, most distressingly, ‘Casablanca,’” she wrote. “There is not much to be taken from these scenes, not even the pleasure of nostalgia; no meaningful reference is made to these films in spirit or content.”
And then there is James, who is regularly referred to as “king” throughout the film.
“The man’s stature, already impressive, grows a little bit more when he gets to stand atop this enormous chunk of movie, now piled up with his many other achievements,” Sollosi wrote. “Just as a film, though, for people to actually watch? Algorithmically speaking, it’s no slam dunk.”