Sometimes a live-action/animated hybrid film works (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 2020’s Tom & Jerry) and sometimes it doesn’t (Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle). Here’s a sequel that hopes to best the mediocre 1996 original movie.
Aping the original movie’s plot, we get a brief flashback to LeBron James’ childhood, then on to his super-duper stardom in the NBA, which brings us to his palatial L. A. mansion & estate where James (played by the man himself) loves to teach his gung-ho teenage son Darius (Ceyair J. Wright) the joys of basketball, while 12-year-old angst-riddled Dom (Cedric Joe) just wants to be a video game developer, instead of a super-basketball star, like dear ol’ pops. Pfft! Ungrateful kids, am I right? Thing is, Dom is exceptionally good at it, even making a cool basketball game prototype called “DomBall” that surprises even dad. But that don’t matter, as papa still wants the kid to go to basketball camp.
Enter the villain, a tyrannical A.I. called AI-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) who’s living inside the Warner 3000 Server-Verse massive computer which is deep underground the Warner Brothers Studios movie lot. This digital guy wants world recognition/domination and what better way than to get “King James” to spread his name? Through an e-mail, AI-G gets exec’s at Warner Bros. to have James & Dom visit, with the promise of putting a digital LeBron in the movies. But when LeBron refuses, AI-G zaps both him and his son (like in Tron) into the Ready Player One-like Oasis universe of all things Warner Bros franchises, movies, cartoons, etc.
AI-G then separates father from son and plans to manipulate Dom to see him as his best buddy and dad as the bad guy (just like in Hook). Meanwhile, a deal is struck: IF LeBron plays a game of basketball against AI-G and wins, he can get his son back. But first, LeBron has to find a team! Stuck on Tune World as a 2D cartoon with Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman, who also does many other voices), they go on a quest to find the others (Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner, Lola Bunny, etc), which is one of the funniest parts of the movie. As Lebron tries to teach the Looney Tunes the fundamentals of basketball (even though they played before!), AI-G coerces young Dom into upgrading his DomBall game–and himself–for the BIG game.
AI-G steals (like in the first movie) the likeness of other noted basketball players (Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Diana Taurasi) and morphs them into the Goon Squad, nasty CGI human/creature hybrids. For the epic basketball game, AI-G also zaps LeBrons family inside the video game to watch, along with anybody watching on their cellphone, plus there are thousands of spectators that you’ll recognize, it’ll drive you nuts!! Thank goodness I had HBOMax so I could pause and see Lord Voldemort, BOTH Catwomen (1966 & 1992), the Droogies, the Night King, The Mask, Pennywise, the Iron Giant, King Kong, many cartoon characters, and a ton more!
Anyway, the game gets going, but the points are based on DomBall points, which LeBron isn’t used to and the Goon Squad trounces them. But, just like in the 1996 movie, they rally in the second half, father & son reconcile, and the bad guys get theirs. I have to admit, at two hours, this movie did overstay its welcome, especially when you pretty much know the plot from the get-go. Blame this on the SIX writers!! SIX!!! There were times I loved some of the visual jokes and a few surprise cameos that popped up (a certain Adult Swim pair made me LOL), but the story was merely a boring re-hash of the original. Not to mention ALL those recognizable faces in the crowd were SUCH a distraction!! I was drawn to THEM, not the big game! Director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother) does what he can, but it’s not enough at times.
As far as acting, give it up for LeBron James who, if you saw him in Trainwrecked, is a credible actor next to Michael Jordan. His ‘family’ are very good as well: Sonequa Martin-Green as his wife and Ceyair Wright as the eldest son are very good, but Cedric Joe needed to be stronger. Thank goodness the amazing Don Cheadle was there to pick up the slack. But the worst thing was the flagrant, blatant, and laughably over-the-top product placement of Warner Bros. and their IP. Just as bad as Disney and their self-gratification in Ralph Breaks The Internet; nothing was sacred. Even LeBron James was heavily praised as a living god for all his prowess on and off the court. Sheesh!! He plays really good basketball, okay? Geez!
**Now showing in theaters and streaming on HBOMax
Space Jam (1996)
Prior to this, only Who Framed Roger Rabbit dared to have humans interact with iconic animated cartoon characters in a full-length motion picture. Worthy of a gamble, especially with a lead who’d never acted before, Space Jam turned out to be a ginormous success.
In practically a self-glorifying love letter to Michael Jordan (playing himself), the NBA superstar and shameless Nike shoe representative plays a version of himself from childhood to adult where he quits the NBA to play baseball because. . . reasons. Meanwhile, in outer space, the intergalactic amusement park, Moron Mountain (run by evil Mr. Swackhammer–voiced by Danny DeVito) is in dire need of new attractions. He gets his diminutive dimwitted minions, the Nerdlucks, to fly to Earth to cartoon-nap the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters.
Upon arrival, Bugs Bunny (voiced by Billy West) and his cartoon pals refuse to go. The Nerdlucks challenge the Looney Tunes to a game of basketball to see if they’ll leave and naturally, due to their small stature, Bugs and his pals agree thinking it’ll be an easy win. BUT! The Nerdlucks, sensing defeat, decide to steal the basketball talents of IRL NBA players Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bouges. BOOM! The Nerdlucks get transformed into huge, muscular, basketball all-star monsters, or MONSTARS!!
Panicking, Bugs and Daffy Duck (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) kidnap Jordan during a golf game, while his nervous publicist, Stan Podolak (Wayne Knight), NBA star Larry Bird, and actor Bill Murray watch in surprise. They take Michael to their ‘cartoon world’, explaining their desperate situation, and Michael reluctantly agrees to help out his new animated friends to defeat these giant foes on the court. Naturally, on the day of the BIG game, the Looney Tunes get annihilated by these Monstars. When all defeat seems inevitable, who shows up but Bill Murray for help & support, while Mr. Swackhammer decides to up the wager against Jordan.
With four writers (Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris, and Herschel Weingrod), each having extensive credits in comedies like The Santa Clause and Twins, you’d think the many jokes flying in & out of this movie would have done the trick, and they did . . . to a point. All the banter between the cartoon characters was pretty funny, especially having them bitch and complain about stuff like past residuals and Disney. They even threw in–a major source of embarrassment today–Lola Bunny (Kath Soucie), a sexualized female rabbit for Bugs to leer and gawk at. It was clever, humorous, fast-paced, and chock full of nearly every major Warner Bros Looney Tunes character. Even the live-action actors were a crack-up. So, what went wrong?
First, director Joe Pytka had directed only one other feature film (Let It Ride), having done only video shorts and music videos. This was his second-only movie and he never did another one after it. It’s obvious his ‘skills’ doing a live-action/animated film hybrid were on the screen. Let’s just say he’s no Zemeckis when it comes to comedy & animation. Then you have its star, Michael “I have more money than you’ll ever have in 12 lifetimes” Jordan. I’m sure that someone thought it was a good idea that he should act in this movie, but it was a bad idea. Whereas some sports figures became fine actors (Terry Crews, Mark Harmon, Bubba Smith, Jim Brown), Jordan wasn’t one of them.
Despite that, this movie made bank at the box office, so much so, that sequels were pitched with humans Jackie Chan, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, golf legend Tiger Woods, and skateboard guru Tony Hawk, but were never done. Sure, it didn’t win any critical praise, but it did win a bunch of awards & nominations, and the Warner Bros. merchandising machine went into overdrive, churning out every imaginable Space Jam product you could think of, including comic books and home video games for Playstation and Sega. I even saw a Space Jam stand-up pinball arcade game. Even the soundtrack for this movie went 6X platinum as of June, 2001!