I was only 4 years old when Space Jam was released in theaters, so I don’t remember seeing it for the first time, but I do remember times spent watching it on VHS as a child. Looking back on it now, the film still has the same fun and charm that it had upon its initial release 16 years ago (my goodness…has it really been that long?!), but I’ve come to realize that it’s far from what could be considered an “excellent” film.
First, the good: for the most part, Michael Jordan does a great job and is pretty likable. Though he’s certainly not an Oscar-worthy actor, he holds his own, doesn’t try too hard, and entertains us. Seeing him alongside Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes characters is amusing because their cartoon-y rules now apply to him and to any other humans who make appearances in their world; throughout the film, we see humans getting sucked through holes like a drink through a straw, squashed flat against the ground, and stretched in ways that only cartoon characters can. The Monstars – the aliens who threaten to enslave the Looney Tunes – have some funny moments as well, such as when they are fooled by Bugs into thinking that there are rules that they have to follow before they can kidnap anyone. Perhaps my favorite moment in the film is when Bill Murray shows up at the game and the Monstars’ boss says, “I didn’t know Dan Aykroyd was in this picture!” (a Ghostbusters reference, for those of you who needed help) There are several laugh-worthy jokes, including jibes at Michael Jordan’s actual career (“I’m a baseball player now!” “Right…and I’m a Shakespearean actor.”), and the second half of the basketball game is the best part of the movie.
However, the plot is just awful. While “cartoon characters kidnap a former basketball star to aid in defeating aliens in a basketball game that decides their fate” may work for kids, it’s an incredibly ridiculous premise. While some may argue that it’s allowed to be ridiculous because it has cartoon characters and humans interacting with each other, I’d like to point out that Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Mary Poppins before it did the same thing in a hugely successful way without having terrible story lines. Another problem I had with the film was the inclusion of Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park), who plays Jordan’s bumbling publicist/assistant, serving no purpose other than to provide some physical comedy. If his character had been excluded from the film, it would have made it that much better.
Fortunately, Michael Jordan acts with an ease that overcomes much of the film’s downfalls, interacting well with these animated characters – an impressive feat for a non-actor, especially when you realize that, from the moment he enters Looney Tune Land, he is almost completely on his own…cartoon characters aren’t added in until after the scene is filmed. For me, it’s the combination of Jordan and the nostalgic memories watching this as a child that makes this film worth the watch – despite the things that aren’t so great. Space Jam might not appeal to adults, but kids will love it, and – who knows? – maybe even the kid in you will like it too.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG – for some mild cartoon language