November 15, 1996 in Seven

Lost In ‘Space’ ‘Space Jam’ Looks Like What It Is: A Calculated Effort To Capitalize On The Stardom Of Michael Jordan

Lawrence Toppman Charlotte Observer
 

If you think Michael Jordan can do no wrong, close the paper now. If you think Looney Tunes characters would be hilarious in an 85-minute movie with no more plot than one of their seven-minute cartoons, turn the page.

But if you want the cold, honest truth about “Space Jam,” prepare yourself for the shock: It’s average.

It’s broadly funny in spots but without any edge. It’ll make kids giggle, but it makes a minuscule effort to appeal to adults. Special effects are sometimes imaginative, sometimes just the same explosions and pratfalls Warners Bros. has done for half a century.

Jordan proves to be as good an actor as he was a baseball player: He connects solidly with a punch line once in a while, but most of his jokes dribble weakly away.

And the one new cartoon character - Lola Bunny, whose basketball skills make her the second most valuable player on the Tunes’ team - is wasted. She’s athletic and spunky, warning fellow rabbit Bugs, “Don’t call me doll!” But she wears more eye shadow then RuPaul, coos in a comehither voice and walks with the va-va-voom motion cartoon babes have used since Hoover was president.

To anybody who’s seen “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” the 1988 landmark in the genre where live action meets animation, “Space Jam” looks like leftovers. It makes only a token effort to establish characters, maintain continuity or sustain any jokes longer than sight gags. It looks exactly like what it is: a calculated, half-conceived attempt to capitalize on the name of a great star and the reputation of a oncegreat animation studio.

It starts pointlessly, with a flashback of Jordan shooting hoops in his humble backyard 23 years ago. He tells his dad he dreams of playing at the University of North Carolina, then the NBA. A celebratory montage brings us to the mid ‘90s, when Mike has achieved his hoop dream and quit to play minor league baseball. He suffers through mediocrity, fawned upon by a press agent (Wayne Knight).

Meanwhile, the owner of a crummy theme park in outer space is losing money. He sees the Looney Tunes on all two dozen of his planet’s TV channels and dispatches his slaves, the Nerdlucks, to kidnap the Tunes for his park.

Bugs challenges the aliens to a basketball game, figuring the little fellas pose no threat. But the Nerdlucks absorb the talents of NBA players (including Muggsy Bogues of the Charlotte Hornets) and turn into huge, drooling Monstars.

Bugs recruits Jordan to help the Tunes, yanking him through a golf cup and into the Tunes’ world. Jordan is followed by Knight and a surprise guest at the film’s climax.

Big Mike approaches these adventures with a near-deadpan face. He takes a licking from a friendly bulldog and a different kind of licking from an angry Monstar with the same all-purpose, bemused expression.

Luckily, what happens around him has plenty of action, bits of clever irony and a lot of nostalgia value. Bugs, Lola, Daffy and Porky have major screen time.

Since voice whiz Mel Blanc is dead, of course, they don’t sound like they used to. Sylvester, Tweety and Bugs are reasonable facsimiles; Elmer Fudd is too gravelly, Daffy doesn’t have the right vocal sneer and Foghorn Leghorn comes from as far south as Wyoming.

Nor do they look like they once did. Computer animation has amazing uses, but the Tunes look more softened, almost blurry, compared to their film selves from the ‘40s and ‘50s. They’ve been integrated into live action adequately, but the live-action scenes plod under Joe Pytka’s direction, and they’re cobbled together in choppy, disjointed fashion.

The movie doesn’t bother with continuity: It’s supposed to dart by so fast that we don’t have time to notice inconsistencies. But that doesn’t work in a feature that runs 12 times as long as a short.

Jordan should have remembered that, no matter what game you play, you have to follow some rules.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “SPACE JAM” Locations: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Joe Pytkam, starring Michael Jordan and the “Looney Tunes” characters Running time: 1:25 Rating: PG

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Space Jam:” Chris Hewitt/St. Paul Pioneer Press: The movie “Space Jam” is a lot like the Mall of America near Minneapolis: It’s very loud and very colorful and you feel like you’re being target-marketed to within an inch of your life. Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: If no single installment of the long-running “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” cartoon series could exhaust Bugs Bunny’s popular appeal, then a feature-length motion picture must be precisely what the rabbit needs. “Space Jam” is the movie, and it’s about time it got here.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “SPACE JAM” Locations: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Joe Pytkam, starring Michael Jordan and the “Looney Tunes” characters Running time: 1:25 Rating: PG

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Space Jam:” Chris Hewitt/St. Paul Pioneer Press: The movie “Space Jam” is a lot like the Mall of America near Minneapolis: It’s very loud and very colorful and you feel like you’re being target-marketed to within an inch of your life. Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: If no single installment of the long-running “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” cartoon series could exhaust Bugs Bunny’s popular appeal, then a feature-length motion picture must be precisely what the rabbit needs. “Space Jam” is the movie, and it’s about time it got here.


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