Space Jam (1996)
PG. Yeah, a movie about basketball players hanging out with the Looney Tunes seems like it would be perfectly fine. And you know what? For the sake of argument, it is fine. But there's a couple of adult jokes equating to skill on the basketball court to sexual performance. Whatever. The Monstars can be a little much at times. The only thing that's really scary is the fact that it has villains. The bigger concern that I have is Foghorn Leghorn going out of his way to sing about the land of cotton. Also, there's a couple of racial stereotypes that are simply accepted for the sake of humor. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Joe Pytka
If had known that starting a film blog about everything that I watch would require me to write umpteen words about Space Jam, I might have thought twice about ever considering it. I hated this movie when it came out. Guess what? It still pretty much sucks. See, I was raised on the Looney Tunes. My dad pushed it harder than Mickey and gang. I don't know why. I don't know why I am all down for the Mickey Mouse crew and haven't really introduced my kids to the Looney Tunes. But they were fine. But I never really liked sports. I mean, I collected baseball and basketball cards, so I knew who everyone in this movie was at the time. It's weird that I still reference Mugsey Bogues and Manute Bol from time to time. But I'm genuinely floored with the fact that I've now seen this movie not once, but twice. But, of course, HBO Max is going to have Space Jam: A New Legacy for free and there's going to be DC content.
Really, it's all on me. Okay, it's really all on my son who is strangely excited for this movie. Space Jam, for some reason, is sacred to a lot of people. This is a battle I've been fighting since 1996. If you ever wanted to understand 1996 exactly, watch Space Jam. It's this big tonal mess that is so focused on hitting this synergy of things that '96 wanted. I remember going to McDonalds and getting Dream Team cups with our meals. For a guy who did not care whatsoever about sports, I thought that the Dream Team was the most important thing ever. The fact that Air Jordans are still a thing kind of reflects how insane we were for Michael Jordan at the time. (Although, it is very haunting to hear to him referred to as "MJ".) But 1996 was also about people wearing Tweety Bird shirts everywhere. Tweety Bird means you had attitude, but in the most vanilla way imaginable. Kids wore Taz shirts and the world was a hot mess. (I actually wish we had the problems of 1996 today.) So imagine throwing all of this into a KFC Famous Bowl and then throw the weirdest tone imaginable to the film.
Seriously. I can understand the tone of the new movie. There's going to be very little seriousness to this movie. Instead, it's going to be another Ready Player One, only for kids mixed with a heavy dose of nostalgia. But the original movie wasn't just fun times with cartoons and basketball. It was a two-fold effort to both repair the brand of Michael Jordan and to ride out the continually waxing and waning interest in the Looney Tunes brand until it hit another slump. Looney Tunes is this brand that Warner Brothers has no idea what to do with. There is something oddly marketable, but never for the long haul. It is entirely a nostalgic thing most of the time, dependent on the cultural zeitgeist to keep it on life support. So this mish-mashup of desperation permeates this movie throughout.
And a lot of it is because of Michael Jordan himself. The movie goes full force into the mistake that Michael Jordan made transitioning into baseball. Starting with this inspirational scene between young Michael and father, it makes Jordan out to be a saint. He's only pursuing baseball because he wants to make his dad happy. There's never this moment in the film where Michael Jordan has a crisis of conscience. Instead, his internal conflict is one that is completely superficial. We know that Michael Jordan is going to go back to basketball. Mind as well tell a story that supports that idea. Why am I talking about this movie as if its serious? Because the movie oh-so-desperately wants to have a modicum of seriousness to it despite the fact that the script is goofy as heck and should be the looniest thing imaginable.
But then there's the real legacy of Space Jam: R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly". The '90s were about putting R&B jams to movies that probably didn't match those songs tonally. I immediately flash to Seal's "A Kiss from a Rose" from Batman Forever. Now, this was commonplace, right? Why does it bother me in Space Jam? I mean, it's not like I love tonally mismatching songs to movies. But "I Believe I Can Fly" is this song of adoration for Michael Jordan's talent. This entire movie is one giant love letter to Michael Jordan. It's his A Hard Day's Night. (Now I want to examine why I am kind of okay with it happening in A Hard Day's Night.) Listen, I like Michael, despite the fact that I grew up in Bad-Boys-era Detroit. But this is such a gushing film. It's adoration. It never really takes potshots at him shy of the baseball thing. It feels very much like, "We can comment on this and this alone."
Now, I would really like to tread lightly on this part because this can easily be misconstrued. I've always advocated that every movie should be an hour-and-a-half. It's a toxic element to me, but I really enjoy a tight hour-and-a-half comedy. It is just that the movie doesn't really have an arc in the film. The Monstars are clearly the antagonists, but the Looney Tunes do something wrong in the sense that they want to bully them almost immediately. Because they are short, they take these guys for granted. That moment should have been the inciting incident. The rest of the movie should be about atonement, which it only sort of is. But when the movie has this external conflict that can't be solved (the Monstars are genuinely bigger than they are), there isn't really that shift of character. It does that little kid TV idea that confidence is all it takes to win. But the Tune Squad never really makes that direct connection. For the sake of a joke (and a joke I kind of grinned at), Daffy says that he understands that Michael's Secret Stuff (or steroids?) is just water, but he needs more and winks. There's never that come-to-Jesus moment that the Looney Tunes need to use their cleverness or something that makes them special. Michael learned that moment, but he was already carrying the team regardless. (I notice how Michael never really took a hit from those guys.)
Let's talk about Lola Bunny, right? Lola is very representative of Hollywood's misguided understanding of feminism in 1996. Lola, a character that was introduced for the movie to be the love interest for Bugs Bunny (which the movie ultimately doesn't need), plays the part of the rebellious kid from The Bad News Bears. She is an outsider and Michael can't have a love interest. All family friendly movies needed to have a love interest. So they sexed her up a bit. They made her wildly attractive. That's fine. And she comes in with an attitude that she doesn't want to be sexually harassed by Bugs. That's great. But Bugs also doesn't give up on Lola. It's not a central plot because there's really no solid storytelling, but it is constant. Lola has absolutely no interest in Bugs Bunny, so it's reflective of that Pepe LePew dynamic which is now considered toxic. But it's when Bugs makes a sacrificial act for Lola (which isn't all that sacrificial because he's a cartoon and the movie stresses that damage isn't real in this world), Lola instantly flips her personality. Okay, the movie wanted to do both things. But when Lola changes everything for Lola in that moment, it kind of implies that Lola's self-worth and feminism is a front in exchange for her true feelings. It's a very no-doesn't-actually-mean-no story. I'm not saying that there can't be a conflict of feelings. That's good storytelling. It's just that Lola never really comes to terms with her internal conflict. It's a light switch and that makes her a dumb character.
Why is Bill Murray in this movie? I mean, there's the great joke that Bill Murray says "I'm a friend of the producer / [Ivan Reitman]". But he's kind of part of the KFC Bowl that is this movie. Wayne Knight, same deal. These are names that are thrown in the movie because they can be in the movie and draw a bigger crowd. I feel bad for Wayne Knight in this movie. The sheer amount of fat jokes thrown his way is upsetting.
But the one thing I want to say before I close this up (a very interrupted writing time that stretched this out to be sheer torture), this isn't the Looney Tunes. The Looney Tunes are wacky and zany. But the heart of Looney Tunes is not in this movie. It's so commercialized and marketed that it just comes across as almost mean spirited. It's not fun. People who love this movie must love it for the pure nostalgia element of it. It's a criminally bad movie that is almost unwatchable. There's nothing here with the exception of a couple of jokes that made me breathe out of my nose for a second. Yet, part of me wants to watch the new one, if only to play "Name that cameo."
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.