Alright, so in the nineties Nike did a series of ads featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny fuckin’ around and gettin’ into mischief. They were pretty awful, but at least had the virtue of being short. Then some GENIUS had the GENIUS idea of expanding this premise into a feature length movie. Now, don’t get me wrong, the mere fact that Space Jam is based on a series of advertisements did not automatically mean it had to be bad. Hell, The Lego Movie was 100 minutes of product placement and actually garnered enough critical acclaim to win a coveted Oscar Snub. This movie’s dubious parentage is not the issue. Its faults are its own. So let’s take a look at Space Jam, or, as I prefer to call it, Prelude to a Fratricide.
So the movie opens with a young Michael Jordan (Brandon Hammond) practicing shots in his front yard at midnight. His father James (Thom Barry) comes out to see what’s wrong and Michael tells him that he can’t sleep. They talk about Michael’s future and he tells his father that he wants to play basketball for North Carolina but also to become a baseball player like his dad.
This scene is…not bad. At all.
In fact it’s actually excellent, aside from R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly being all intrusive and schmaltzy and reminding me of the continued existence of R. Kelly. Thom Barry gives a very warm and nuanced performance as the elder Jordan and this would actually be a touching and very solid beginning to a serious biopic about Michael Jordan’s life. It’s also doubly poignant when you realise that this movie came out only three years after James Jordan’s murder. Then you remember that in around forty minutes time this is going to happen.
I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not really in keeping with the tone of the film that follows.
Well anyway, after the credits we cut to several years later where Michael Jordan is announcing his retirement from basketball to pursue a career playing base ball. See, this is why I hate this movie. I doesn’t respect its audience’s intelligence. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that the most successful basketball player in the history of the NBA is just going to retire at the peak of his success to start again in a completely new sport? It’s ludicrous! It’s insane!
It’s…what the close up mouth whore fuck that ACTUALLY HAPPENED!?
Does…does that mean aliens are real? Because we now cut to Moron Mountain, an alien theme park run by Swackhammer, an evil cigar-chomping meanie voiced by Danny De Vito. Swackhammer tells his dimuinitve lackeys, the Nerdlucks, that the park needs some new attractions. He sits on his TV remote which causes like thirty different Looney Tunes shorts to play on all his security monitors simultaneously which seems a little improbable, and, dare I say it, hacky? I’m not complaining though, as those 20 seconds of Golden Age Looney Tunes are about as close to genuine wit and inspiration as we’re going to get so soak it up folks. Realising that the hack gods have given him a sign, Swackhammer exclaims: “Yes! Looney! Yes! Now yer talkin’! Looney! Looney! That’s it! That’s the word I was lookin’ for! Looney! Get the Looney Tunes!”
Back on Earth Michael is playing the base ball but his stats are nooooooo good and everyone is sad because they will lose base ball today. Everyone is still in awe of Michael from the days when he was playing the sport he was actually good at to the point where even the guy who catches the base ball for the other group of base ball playing guys is giving him tips on how to play base ball. So let’s talk about Michael Jordan and his weird decision to pursue a career in something he has no real experience or natural talent for.
Let’s talk about his acting.
Saw me comin’ a mile away, didn’t ya? Okay so, in my honest opinion, Michael Jordan is not actually that bad. Seriously. I mean, considering that this is a guy with virtually no acting experience carrying the lead role in a major motion picture where he faces two of the toughest challenges that can face any actor (acting with animated characters and trying to work with a piss-poor script) I don’t think he disgraces himself. In fact, I would even see potential for him as an actor. I mean, not in a comedy. God no. He doesn’t have the lightness or the timing. But I could actually see him doing well with something a bit heavier. He’s definitely got presence. Pair him with a decent script and a director who knows how to get the best out his actors and I could see Michael Jordan surprising everybody in a different movie.
“Mouse, what are you doing?”
I’m sorry, I don’t like giving wholly negative reviews. Alright, we’re also introduced to the Baron’s publicist Stan Podolak played by Wayne Knight.
Stan tells Jordan that he’s basically here to be his bitch, doing absolutely anything that needs to be done to keep him happy and I’m pretty sure that’s not what a publicist does. Especially for someone that they don’t technically work for. Anyway, the game is briefly interrupted by the revelation of life on other planets when a space ship flies over the field and ploughs into the very earth. The rest of the movie deals with the massive social upheaval and waves of existential terror unleashed on the entire world as humanity struggles to come to terms with this immense…nah I’m fuckin’ with you it’s completely glossed over Jordan doesn’t even mention it to his wife after the game.
The Nerdlucks fly towards the centre of the earth, with one of the little aliens asking “are we there yet?”
“Hack HACK! Hack! Hack!”
“HACK! HACK! Hack! HACK! HACK!”
The centre of the earth, as we all know, is a toon world owned by Warner Brother’s inc.
“That was the agreement. They get everything below the earth, I get everything above.”
We’re introduced to Bugs Bunny being chased by Elmer Fudd (both voiced by Billy West).
I think I’m on safe ground when I say that Bugs Bunny is one of the coolest characters ever. Hell, Bugs Bunny invented cool. Before Bugs Bunny came along, if something was cool you couldn’t say it was cool, you had to tug on your bowtie and say “That’s fancy.” He’s James Dean cool. Fonzie cool. The bassist from the “Actual Cannibal Shia La Boeuf” music video cool.
Just look at that suave motherfucker. Look at him!
As the first big-screen outing for Warner Bros’ most iconic character, Space Jam is a massive failure for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you shouldn’t make Bugs Bunny the star of a feature length movie period. It doesn’t play to the character’s strengths. Bugs Bunny doesn’t have some rich inner life that needs an hour and a half to explore, he’s so hyper competent that he can deal with any threat or enemy in under seven minutes. He’s built for shorts. Stretching him out to an entire movie is like if Monty Python did an entire film based around the Spanish Inquisition.
Secondly, execution. Billy West is at least recognisable as Bugs, but it’s different enough from Mel Blanc to be distracting (his Elmer Fudd is much better) but he’s not really the issue. The animation is. Technically it’s fine. It’s fluid and the models remain consistent and all that. But it’s also really garish and trying way to hard to be wacky. This is the thing, Bugs Bunny is not really an “eyes-popping out of his skull” kind of cartoon character. He’s often remarkably subdued, a tall thin centre of calm in the storm. In Space Jam Bugs over-acts. Horribly.
In fact the whole movie has this problem. It has no sense of subtlety. The camera is in your face (quite literally, there are so many goddamn extreme close ups), the music’s obnoxious, the colour scheme makes Batman and Robin look like The Seventh Seal and the attempts of comedy have the hallmarks of someone who’s seen original shorts but has no idea as to why they worked. Okay, so the Nerdlucks take Bugs prisoner (uh yeah, no) and demand that he summons all the other Looney Tunes which he does (uh yeah, no.) At a Town Hall meeting, the Nerdlucks tell the Tunes that they are now their prisoners but Bugs tells them that they need to give them a chance to defend themselves. Bugs and the Looney Tunes confer in a scene that homages Patton because Jesus the parallels are obvious I gotta draw you a diagram? Patton! Looney Tunes! Basketball! C’mon people!
“Because when you put your hand into a pool of paint that was your best friends FACE?! You’ll know what to do…”
The Tunes reason that the Nerdlucks are small, slow and unathletic and that therefore the best way to beat them is to
strap a couple of tonnes of Acme TNT to them and go out for ribs challenge them to a basketball game. The Nerdlucks agree, but when they realise they’ve agreed to a game they can’t possibly win they decide to cheat by stealing the skills of five NBA all stars.
From left to right: Larry Jonson, Tyrone Bogues, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and the Creature of Doctor Victor Frankenstein, an assemblage of deceased body parts given life through mysterious and sinister means.
This causes the player’s to lose their talent and stumble around the court like baby deer on tranquilizers. Michael watches this on TV while eating McDonald’s in his hotel room (how else do you think he stays in such good shape?) when Stan pokes his head in through the door and gives possibly the single most sell-out line in movie history:
“C’mon, Michael! It’s game time! Get your Hanes on, lace up your Nikes, grab your Wheaties and your Gatorade, and we’ll pick up a Big Mac on the way to the ballpark.”
I just. Wow. That’s not even infuritating, that’s just goddamn tragic. This movie needs an intervention from Sting.
“Spaaace Jam! You don’t have to put on that red light! Schill for corporate sponsors! You don’t care if it’s wrong, of if it is right!”
Thank you Sting.
You want to know what makes it even worse? They don’t even go to the game! That dialogue didn’t even set up a transition or anything! Back in the Tunes world the Nerdlucks show up with their stolen baller mojo and use it to transform into massive, twelve foot tall monsters. Which is ludicrous of course, because of the five basketball players they stole talent from, only one was a twelve foot tall monster. This leads to one of the most notorious scenes in the movie where one of the monsters spooks Porky Pig who screams and then stammers “I we-we-we-we-we wet myself.”
Just wow. Porky Pig. The original Looney Tune. The elder statesman. What an absolute desecration of that character’s legacy.
The whole point is that he tries to say the word and then has to say a completely different word. The line should have been “I we-we-we-we-we pissed my pants.”
We cut to a golf course where Michael is playing a game with Bill Murray. Oh God. Poor Bill. He was so cut up about missing out on Who Framed Roger Rabbit
that he must have just jumped at this without even realising that it was burning garbage. The dialogue in this movie alternates between hacky and unfunny (the Looney Tunes scenes) and the stuff in the real world which has the rambling, repetitious half-improvised feel of porno movie dialogue. The only one of the live action actors who comes close to making it work is Bill Murray, who, let’s be honest, is probably just making his lines up on the fly. Bill asks Michael if he has a shot of getting in to the NBA now that Barkley, Jonson, Bogues, Ewing and the dread Adam of Doctor Frankenstein’s dark labors can’t play anymore. Michael shuts him down with the spectacularly dickish line “No. It’s a man’s game. And you can’t play.”
Okay? Michael. Couple of points.
1) That’s Bill Fucking Murray. Did you save all of humanity from Gozer the Gozerian? You didn’t? Then show some goddamn respect.
2) How do you know he can’t play? Is he not eating the strict regimen of McDonald’s needed to attain the physical perfection you’ve worked so hard to achieve?
3) A man’s game? This is hurling.
It’s a game where physical violence is not only permitted but keenly encouraged and everyone is armed with a 40 inch club of solid ash. Now go back to your golf game.
Michael gets pulled through one of the golf holes and finds himself in the Tunes world where Bugs introduces himself. Jordan doesn’t believe he’s real, and says so with all the conviction and passion of a man who’s been brought the wrong soup by the waiter so Bugs proves it by planting a big wet one on Jordan.
And yes. I painstakingly searched for the one frame where Jordan looks like he’s really into it. I gotta find joy where I can.
Daffy gives Michael a physical by plonking him in a dentist’s chair and launching him hundreds of feet into the air before letting him plummet back to earth, with the other Tunes scoring his dive.
Uh, Foghorn? If I were you I’d dial that “boy” stuff WAAAAAAAY the fuck back.
The Tunes ask for Michael’s help to defeat the Monstars and he says that he’s a baseball player now (which is true in the strictest technical sense) and tells the Tunes “y’all are nuts!” Daffy then explains that they are in fact Looney Tunes and are “the proud property of Warner Bros inc” and shows the massive Warner Bros crest festooned to his buttocks.
“Space Jaaaaaam!/Put on that red light!/Space Jaaaaam!/Put on that red light!/Space Jaaaam!”
The Monstars show up to trash talk Jordan and then crush him into a cube and use him as a ball.
Interesting fact: this movie was how those Taiwanese CGI news guys got their big break.
One of the Monstars (no, I don’t know their names, yes I could look it up on IMDb, no, I am not arsed) tells Jordan “You’re all washed up, Baldy!”
The movie then cuts back to the real world where the de-powered Charles Barkley is sadly walking through an inner city neighbourhood and sees some school girls playing basketball and asks if he can play with them.
No, but almost as embarrassingly he plays so badly that they assume he’s a fake and tell him to screw off. The rest of the de-powered players go through a barrage of medical and psychological tests to see what’s wrong with them but with no success.
“They still can’t find anything wrong with us!”
“We’re fine. It’s probably just some psychosomatic deal.”
Meanwhile, Michael has decided to help the Tunes after the Monstars had the UNMITIGATED GALL to suggest that he didn’t have hair. He discovers that the Looney Tunes, despite betting their freedom on being able to win a game of basketball, have never actually played the sport. Well. All except one of them.
Now, Lola Bunny is, of course, awful. But she’s awful in execution, not conception. I don’t have a problem with them introducing a new character into the Looney Tunes pantheon. Heck, it’s their first big screen movie, that’s the perfect time to do it. And if you are going to create a new Looney Tune, it makes sense for her to be female since we’ve already got literally dozens of male characters and for the ladies we have…lemme think…Granny and Tweety (maybe? Did we ever get confirmation on that?)
I like to think of Lola Bunny as the anti-Jessica Rabbit. I noted in the Who Framed Roger Rabbit review that Jessica Rabbit, while appearing on the surface to be a shallow male fantasy lust object, is actually a deep, layered, empowered, endlessly fascinating character with her own agency, motivations and arc. Lola Bunny, on the other hand, is a character masquerading as a female empowerment figure who is actually just a shallow male fantasy lust object.
But all that’s secondary to her biggest problem. She’s supposed to be a Looney Tune and she is NOT. DAMN. FUNNY.
Okay, so Bugs challenges Lola to a game of one on one and calls her “doll” which Lola does not talk kindly to, kicking his ass at basketball and telling him “Don’t call me “doll”.”
“Don’t call me babe.”
Actually? That reference is an insult to the progressive feminism of Barb Wire. Listen movie, I’ll take Lola seriously as a strong female character when you lay off the damn porno sax music every time she’s onscreen and keep the camera off her cotton tail.
Alright so Michael says that he can’t play in golf shoes so he sends Bugs and Daffy to his house to pick up his basketball kit. Daffy goes off on his own because he doesn’t trust that Bugs knows where he’s going and I gotta say, I’m with the duck on this one. This is the same rabbit after all that tried to get to Pismo Beach via Albuquerque and ended up in the Himalayas. After some time wasting comic business with the family dog and the Jordan children (all very nice young ladies and gentlemen who are doing the best they can) the return to Michael the source of his power. Stan follows then back and convinces Michael to let him be a benchwarmer.
So the night of the big game arrives and the stadium is packed. The Tunes are psyched and ready to kick some ass but Michael advises them to “Just go out there and have some fun.”
“I mean sure, if you lose you face a lifetime of slavery, but that’s no excuse for forgoing the simple pleasures of the game.”
The game goes south for the Tunes early on with the Monstars racking up a comfortable lead and burning Foghorn Leghorn alive (one of the Monstars having apparently stolen Patrick Ewing’s ability to breath fire). Not helping matters, Jordan’s clearly not on form and has made some extremely questionable choices with his starting lineup.
Mike, I don’t mean to tell you your job but he’s indestructible and runs faster than the speed of sound. PUT HIM ON THE COURT.
So, it’s halftime and the game has the kind of one-sided score you usually only see at the end of an Ireland-England rugby match.
Can you fit an entire country in the burn ward? ‘Cos they just got burned. By me.
Stan sneaks into the Monstars dressing room and hides in a locker and overhears them talking to Swackhammer about how they stole the talent of the NBA players. Stan tells Michael and Michael is all “Good thing you were suspicious and decided to check it out” and Stan’s all “Yeah, that is absolutely what I was doing. Let’s go with that.” and the Tunes are utterly disheartened. Bugs has an idea, and convinces Michael to go along with it. They give the Tunes some ordinary water, telling them that it’s Michael’s “secret stash” and that it will make them play better.
The second half starts and the Looney Tunes actually start playing like the goddamn Looney Tunes, TNT, anvils, guns, disguises, the whole box of tricks.
Yeah. Yeah that happens.
The Tunes actually manage to pull almost level and Swackhammer furiously calls a time out. Michael offers to raise the stakes, saying that the Tunes win, the Monstars have to give back the talent they stole. Michael then says that if they lose, he’ll spend the rest of his life on Moron Mountain as an attraction and thank God we got all those scenes showing Michael as a loving husband and father to really make this as horrific as possible.
“I will own you! You’ll toil away without pay while I grow ludicrously wealthy from your talent!”
“Crap. This is going to be like playing college basketball all over again.”
The game starts up again and now the Monstars just start massacreing the Looney Tunes. Michael calls a timeout and surveys the wounded.
Any fans of Speedy Gonzales in the house? Here he is dead in a mousetrap, his little neck broken.
He finally calls Stan up to play, and by some miracle he actually scores but is flattened into a hideous CGI pancake by one of the Monstars (which of course is a classic Charles Barkley play). Michael asks Bugs how Stan was able to survive that and Bugs explains that in Looney Tune land even human beings can contort like cartoons. Michael says “Ten seconds to go? Thanks for telling me.”
So…this is something you just can do normally?
They still need one more player however, or else they’ll have to forfeit the game. But then, their prayers are answered.
Sorry Bill. Some things are beyond even your ability to save.
The Tunes pull out all the stops, get the ball to Michael who manages to score by stretching his arm from centre court as the clock ticks down to the final second. The match is over, the Tunes are saved and Swackhammer is defeated.
And everyone is happy because they have won basketball today.
Swackhammer starts tearing strips out of the Monstars for losing but the Tunes remind them that they’re big huge monster now so they cram Swackhammer in a rocket and launch him into space. Michael makes the Monstars give the powers back and they turn back into tiny Nerdlucks. The aliens ask if they can stay with Bugs and the gang and so the Nerdlucks join the storied ranks of the Looney Tunes, taking their place in a legacy that stretches back to before the Second World War and will doubtless go on for decades and perhaps even centuries to come.
They were never seen again.
“Well actually Mouse, they did have a brief cameo in an episode of Animaniacs…”
“They were never. Seen. Again.”
As a last bit of business, Michael and Stan visit the five depowered basketball players who just happen all be sitting around the same basketball court and he gives them their talent back. They ask him if wants to play some ball but he cries off and the other players start talking about how he doesn’t have what it takes any more.
“Hey cmon guys, leave the baseball player alone. You know he doesnt play basketball anymore.”
“Yeah, you know he probably hasn’t even got it anymore.”
Michael says that there’s only one way to find out if he still has it, and we cut to his first game back with the Chicago Bulls, finally revealing the reason behind his return to basketball.
Because some other players were mean to him.
Space Jam opened to massive box-office and decent reviews from critics as respected as Leonard Malthin and Roger Ebert. It is to date the biggest grossing Looney Tunes movie, and the most successful basketball film ever made.
That’s it. Drink to forget.
Chuck Jones, however, called the movie “terrible” (although he said the same thing about Aladdin
so maybe he just doesn’t like cartoons that are longer than seven minutes). In my opinion it’s mostly garbage; an ugly, garish, obnoxious Happy Meal toy of a movie.
“You…you really don’t like it?”
“No! Of course I don’t! That’s why you got me to review it in the first place!”
“Oh…I mean, of course! And you fell right into my…”
“Oh God. You actually love this movie and really just wanted me to review it, didn’t you?”
“Okay. Well now I feel like a heel.”
“Ah don’t worry about it. Different strokes. Farewell brother.”
“Watch out for Blucatt.”
“Never mind. Too late now anyway. Goodbye, brother.”
This is starting to get creepy…
Anyway, that was Space Jam. I am so sorry. By recompense, please watch the only good thing to ever come of this movie.
Competent, but ugly, overly busy and completely lacking in subtlety.
I saw the best cartoons of past generations destroyed by commerce, shilling, hysterical, naked,
dragging themselves through the Nerdluck streets at dawn looking for a licencing tie-in,
DeVito tries his best, but the voices of the Nerdlucks are just teeth-grindingly awful, each in their own special snowflake-unique way.
Supporting Characters: 04/20
Bill Murray is a brief, flickering candle in an ocean of inexorable blackness.
The soundtrack for this movie might as well have been called Guilty Pleasures: The Album.
FINAL SCORE: 26%
NEXT UPDATE: 01 February 2015
The Unshaved Mouse Charity Movie Deathmatch begins! See which twelve movies you the readers have chosen to go head to head for the right to be reviewed! And THEN!
NEXT REVIEW: 05 February 2015
February is claymation month here on Unshaved Mouse, and to start we’re taking a look at one of the undisputed masters of the form.
Neil Sharpson aka The Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, blogger and comic book writer living in Dublin. The blog updates with a new animated movie review every second Thursday. He’s also serialising his novel The Hangman’s Daughter with a new chapter every Saturday. Today’s review was made possible thanks to the kind donation of Eamonn Sharpson. Thanks bro!