Nostalgia sucks, and so does Space Jam. Like many people in my generation, I saw this bizarre Looney Tunes-NBA crossover more times than I could count during my childhood. A&O Films and Happiness Club’s free screening last Saturday allowed me to reassess the movie as an older and slightly wiser college student.
It turns out that Space Jam is a dated relic stuffed with blatant product placement that should have stayed in the ‘90s, but persists due to our nostalgia-obsessed culture. However, the film’s faults can be good for a laugh, and the Looney Tunes characters do show occasional glimpses of the charms that made them such an institution.
The fact that the movie starts with “I Believe I Can Fly” performed by accused sexual predator R. Kelly was a good sign that time would not be kind to Space Jam. The first scene is of a young Michael Jordan playing basketball with his father. Young MJ then goes on to accurately predict his career trajectory in such an uncanny way that I am now convinced Jordan’s success is partially because of his latent psychic abilities. Next comes a long intro montage of Jordan’s success that establishes the film’s major theme – that Michael Jordan can dunk a basketball. This tedious intro becomes barely tolerable due to the undeniably catchy Space Jam theme song.
What follows the theme song is a tale of how MJ quit the NBA to play minor league baseball and how he must learn to love basketball again in order to save the Looney Tunes from being enslaved by monsters from the outer space theme park Moron Mountain. Jordan’s lack of acting talent hurts this story, especially when he is acting against computer-generated Looney Tunes. However, the acting ability of the other NBA players featured in the film makes Jordan’s performance Oscar-worthy by comparison. The supporting human cast is rounded out by Wayne Knight in between Seinfeld seasons as the borderline-creepy assistant Stan and Bill Murray, whose cameo is so forced that the film comments on it.
As for the Looney Tunes, the computer-generated treatment of the iconic critters has not aged well. Some of their trademark zaniness survives into the climatic basketball game, and they make a cute reference to Pulp Fiction at one point. But many classic characters do not get a chance to shine, and the legendary trickster Bugs Bunny comes off as relatively stupid in this interpretation. The film was the introduction to Lola Bunny, Bugs’ uncomfortably sexualized love interest. However, outside of her hatred of being called “doll,” Lola has no characterization and just exists to fall for Bugs. While writers must strive to create more female characters in our patriarchal culture, a shallow love interest who answers the godforsaken question “What if bunnies had boobs?” just reveals how pervasive the male gaze is in popular culture.
The sheer laziness of Space Jam, though, is hilarious. Some of the graphics for when MJ is stretched out like a cartoon are so amateurish that they need to be seen to be believed. The film doesn’t even bother to put in effort to do subtle product placement. There is a moment when Wayne Knight’s character stops the film to tell MJ to prepare for a baseball game by lacing his Nikes, grabbing a Gatorade and eating a Big Mac. The scene stops just after Knight says this, and it does not lead into the next scene at all. The cast and crew of Space Jam actually took the time and effort to record a scene just for product placement. Just a reminder, it took four people to write this movie, and the director mostly worked in commercials before creating this masterpiece. Also, for a film called Space Jam, there is surprisingly little time in space. The climax takes place underneath the Earth, and the film only goes to space for a brief look at Moron Mountain.
Finally, I’m just shocked about the reasoning on Jordan’s part. The film covers an actual time in his life that includes the death of his father and uncertainty about the future of his career. The fact that he allowed that deeply personal moment in his life to be turned into a Looney Tunes crossover is perhaps the most Looney element of this ‘90s throwback.