(CNN) – Debates over how great LeBron James is compared to Michael Jordan on the basketball court will continue in perpetuity, but “Space Jam: A New Legacy” won’t fuel much discussion about who the better actor is. Putting James in Jordan’s shoes, so to speak, isn’t a bad idea in theory, but despite the weird Looney Tune-acy-inspired moment, this reboot pulls a very strong, muffled ball of air.
A quarter of a century after the first “Jam” brought together a team of NBA superstars to ward off an alien threat, this one travels through inner space, while providing even more opportunities for synergistic ties involving the vast Warner Bros. library (The studio is a unit of WarnerMedia, as is CNN.)
The irony is that the film perhaps owes its biggest thematic debt not to a Warner Bros. property. but to a Disney property, as the premise contains a lot of “Tron,” James being sucked into the studio’s “Serververse”. where the villain is an artificial intelligence known as Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle, doing the little he can with not much), who wants to team up with the King before turning on him.
There’s also a big dollop of heart, in what looks like a blossoming children’s movie, involving James’ relationship with his young son Dom (Cedric Joe), who doesn’t share his father’s passion for basketball. ball, preferring to code and program video games.
In the computer world, James must triumph over Al’s team or risk losing his child, finding allies (admittedly not his first choice) in the characters of the Looney Tunes, who do not share his enthusiasm for hard work. and the fundamentals.
So the build-up is again towards a game with higher stakes than the NBA Finals, pitting the Toon Squad against the Goon Squad of the algorithm, although the video game elements make it even more difficult to keep up with which. happens.
At two o’clock, “A New Legacy” goes into what feels like overtime, which gets numb with this kind of visual gag-focused build. As a result, for the curious, the movie might play better at home on HBO Max, where viewers can at least take a break and enjoy the best visual gags that pass.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip”) from a screenplay credited to enough writers to fill a starter team and a sixth man, there are some clever moments ago. They include Looney Tunes characters moving from traditional cel animation to computer-generated shapes, and a pitch meeting at Warner Bros. (naturally) where James is correctly skeptical of any studio plans thrown at him.
“Athletes and actors, things never go well,” he says.
In fact, James’ acting isn’t that bad, and he’s certainly made an impact in Hollywood as a producer before (a credit he also holds here, with “Black Panther” Ryan Coogler) and budding media mogul. Still, carrying an entire movie – even with all the bustling chaos surrounding it – seems like a lot to ask, especially with the father-son dynamic that forms the story.
As for the animation, which has already included weird doubts about a redesigned Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya), regardless of the style, the overall effect falls flat.
The first “Space Jam” was hardly a classic, which should temper expectations. Yet even by that standard, this marketing-driven exercise too often plays out like the Acme version of it.
James has built championship-caliber teams in several cities, while studios have come to rely on name recognition for reboots. While it’s easy to see the allure of marrying a current NBA superstar to such a familiar supporting cast, this time around, the algorithm lets them down.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” premieres July 16 in theaters and on HBO Max. It is classified PG.