LeBron James meets his impersonator, YouTube sensation Mark Phillips, at 'Space Jam A New Legacy' premiere


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Come hang out with LeBron James and all your favorite IP

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip), with seven writers credited for the story and script, Space Jam: A New Legacy is convoluted, and yet the plot is entirely glossed over. At its heart, it’s a father-son story about LeBron James, the world’s biggest basketball star (played by LeBron James), his youngest son Dom (Cedric Jones, not his real son), and their struggle to connect. At the start of the film, LeBron is cartoonishly focused on basketball, which he treats with such an all-consuming seriousness that he can’t see that Dom, who’s good at basketball, actually wants to make video games.

In an effort to reconnect with Dom, LeBron brings him to a meeting at Warner Bros. Studios, where executives (played by Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun) pitch him on an exciting new technology: an algorithm that can scan people and insert them into any Warner Bros. property imaginable. With the push of a button, LeBron can be in a Batman movie, Game of Thrones, or Harry Potter. The technology isn’t explained beyond that, but it’s enough for LeBron to call it the worst idea he’s ever heard and walk out from the meeting, which is perhaps the only reasonable thing that happens in this film.

Unfortunately, the algorithm behind that new technology is a sapient artificial intelligence (played by Don Cheadle), and it wants revenge on LeBron for turning down the idea. Al-G Rhythm, as the AI is called, lures Dom and LeBron deep into the bowels of Warner Bros. and zaps them into the “Server-Verse,” a digital universe he rules, where every Warner Bros. franchise exists on its own planet. It then issues LeBron a challenge: Beat Al-G in a game of basketball, and LeBron and Dom can go. Lose, and they stay in the Server-Verse forever. And since LeBron and Dom are fighting with each other, Al-G is able to manipulate the younger James into playing on AI-G’s team, against his own father.

The story streamlines considerably in the film’s second half, when LeBron is exiled to the Looney Tunes’ world, where Bugs Bunny is the sole inhabitant. Al-G, he explains, has sent Bugs’ cartoon pals to other, more profitable worlds. Together, they assemble the rest of the Looney Tunes from across the Server-Verse, which means finding them in scenes from movies like The Matrix and Austin Powers. You know, scenes like this one:

Neo ain’t got nothing on Speedy Gonzales! Watch this Tune take his skills from the Matrix to the court in Space Jam: A New Legacy – in theaters and streaming on HBO Max* July 16. Get tickets now: https://t.co/v80fJKhg5l #SpaceJamMovie pic.twitter.com/Ybmqj1s7t7

While it’s easy to clown on ideas like this and a rapping Porky Pig, this is classic kids’-movie stuff: action that looks goofy enough to make children giggle, while eliciting a few knowing chuckles from stressed-out parents who barely have time to watch anything for adults. Yet even watching A New Legacy with a fondness for the first Space Jam and a leniency that’s necessary for a lot of kids’ movies, it’s hard to not be overwhelmed by so many questions. For example:

The first Space Jam was born out of an attempt to sell sneakers. In a dizzying display of corporate dominance, the new Space Jam is trying to sell everything Warner Bros. has ever made. Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t really a movie — it’s a crash course in vertical integration and brand identity, a marketing slideshow with a two-hour running time. Its viewers are taken on a whirlwind tour through every Warner IP geared toward every demographic: Wonder Woman’s Themyscira for girls and women, The Matrix for older men, Harry Potter for Old Millennials who haven’t been reading the news much, and so forth. This is how Hollywood works now. This is the future of blockbuster movies.

It’s Kingdom Hearts, but without any genuine feeling. And while the excuse of having a desperate need to entertain children with a feature film’s worth of Family Guy-style references may hold water, watching it without that excuse in hand feels vulgar. Because Space Jam: A New Legacy is only really satisfying to people who care about marketing and company profits, people who approach it as a product that’s successfully been sold. It’s like a basketball game your favorite team is winning — except the team isn’t one playing on screen. It’s the company that sold you the ticket.

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