August 8, 2018
Space Jam (1996)
Grade: 46/100

Director: Joe Pytka
Stars: Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Bill Murray

What it's about. A fantasy comedy that alternates between, and combines, live action and animation. Bug-like cartoon characters kidnap your favorite Looney Tunes characters (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, etc.) to force them to perform at an amusement park. The Looney Tunes believe they can beat the short cartoon bugs in basketball, so they challenge them to a game, with freedom or slavery at stake.

The bug cartoons agree. To up their game, they steal the talent from several famous basketball players of the day (Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Muggsy Bogues). Somehow, this turns the bugs into giant hulking monsters.

Intimidated, the Looney Toones recruit the most famous athlete from the 1990s, Michael Jordan, to play on their team. Jordan soon agrees, of course, and the game is on.

The supporting cast includes annoying "Seinfeld" recurring character actor Wayne Knight, friend of the producer Bill Murray, and Danny DeVito, the latter stictly as a voice actor.

How others will see it. Space Jam had a lofty budget of 80M, but it was a commercial hit, both in the U.S. and, surprisingly, in foreign markets. The movie drew mixed reviews and was ignored by the most respectable film festivals. The exceptions were the Annie Awards, which specialize in animation, and the Grammies, which awarded a soundtrack entry, the R. Kelly song "I Believe I Can Fly".

Today at, the movie has a big 133K user votes, proof of its lasting cultural impact. (A long-belated sequel, Space Jam 2, is in production and stars Jordan's present-day equivalent, LeBron James.) The film has a respectable 6.8 user rating among viewers under age 30, but those over age 45 grade it a significantly lower 5.5 out of 10.

But the top user reviews are mostly positive, and the movie certainly has its fans. Criticism comes from fans of the Warner Bros. cartoon shorts from their 1940s and 1950s glory, who believe the characters are poorly served here. Also, the acting of our NBA heroes is panned.

How I felt about it. I understand that it is a cartoon movie. Still, it is annoying that the basketball game does not have referees, and often more closely resembles a mixed martial arts massacre.

It is disappointing to see Looney Tunes characters such as Grandma (Tweety's owner) and Foghorn Leghorn reduced to mere bench warmer appearances. Since when did Bugs have a love interest? Why isn't Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs?

The real problem, though, is that the movie is stupid. More specifically, the story is stupid and the gags are stupid. What is more unbelievable than Michael Jordan retiring from the NBA for one season to play double-A baseball? How about five has-been NBA players from different teams participating in a seance to learn where their talent has gone? And moping in a gymnasium, by themselves, as if waiting for Michael Jordan to walk through the doors carrying a magic basketball that will give them back their talent (not that it worked for Shawn "Edward Scissorhands" Bradley).

What the film does do, though, is build the mythology of Michael Jordan, and what a great Aw Shucks guy he is. And it has to be admitted: the movie is better than Shaquille O'Neal's Kazaam. Better in a strictly relative fashion, since it pales in comparison with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?