Review: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy,’ starring LeBron James

August 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

LeBron James and Bugs Bunny in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Space Jam: A New Legacy”

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area and in an alternate technology universe, the live-action/animated film “Space Jam: A New Legacy” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A computer algorithm traps basketball superstar LeBron James in a technology universe, where he joins forces with Warner Bros.-owned Looney Tunes characters for a high-stakes basketball game against computer-generated villains that want to take over the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of LeBron James fans and Looney Tunes fans, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a mindless but harmless family film that overloads on shilling for various Warner Bros. entertainment products and services.

Cedric Joe and Don Cheadle in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is not meant to be a real movie. It’s just a long and witless commercial for Warner Bros. entertainment entities, with LeBron James as a celebrity spokesperson. Even young children and gullible people will notice the over-the-top, shameless plugging of all things Warner Bros. in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” It’s hard not to miss this obnoxious promotion, because it’s in every scene.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is the sequel to 1996’s “Space Jam.” Both are hybrid live-action/animated movies about basketball superstars who team up with Warner Bros.-owned Looney Tunes characters to play against villains in a life-or-death basketball game. Michael Jordan starred in “Space Jam,” which was also a silly movie, but it had a lot more heart and sincerity than “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which stars LeBron James.

Both “Space Jam” movies have celebrity athletes portraying themselves. All of these athletes have limited acting skills, even if some of these basketball icons have loads of charisma in real life. However, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a much more cynically made movie, because its highest priority is selling Warner Bros. characters and products. At least the first “Space Jam” movie made more of an attempt to be humorous and have several significant characters whose purpose was not to be a mascot for Warner Bros.

It’s not a good sign when a movie has more than four credited screenwriters, because it usually means that there were “too many cooks in the kitchen.” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has six screenwriters: Celeste Ballard, Keenan Coogler, Jesse Gordon, Terence Nance, Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor. And what’s even worse is that all of these “Space Jam: A New Legacy” screenwriters couldn’t come up with a truly original story for this sequel.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” essentially copies the same template as “Space Jam,” with just a few changes, such as the reason for the big showdown basketball game that happens in the last third of the film. In “Space Jam,” Jordan has to do battle against basketball-playing monsters from outer space that were literally stealing the talent (by suctioning it out in gas form) from NBA stars. In “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” James has to do battle against a computer algorithm (which can take the shape of a man) that has stolen his younger son and created a team of monsters for the basketball showdown.

Each movie opens with a highlight montage of the basketball superstar’s career, up until the movie was made. Each movie has someone saying more than once, “You can’t be great without putting in the work.” Each movie ends exactly how you think it will end.

In “Space Jam: A New Legacy” LeBron’s 12-year-old son Dominic, nicknamed Dom (played by Cedric Joe), is a computer whiz and aspiring video game developer who has been kidnapped by a computer algorithm called Al G. Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle) into the algorithm’s universe called the Warner 3000 server-verse. Inside this server-verse exists everything Warner Bros., including Looney Tunes World.

Dom feels unappreciated and misunderstood by LeBron, who is pushing Dom to become a basketball star. Dom likes playing basketball and is on his school’s basketball team, but he’s an average player, and he doesn’t have the passion for the game like his father does. There’s a predictable scene in the beginning of the film where Dom is playing in a school game, and he misses a shot that causes the team to lose the game.

Dom wants to attend an E3 Game Design camp, but it’s taking place on the same weekend as a basketball camp that LeBron wants Dom to attend. Father and son argue about it. But in the end, LeBron is the adult in charge and tells Dom that he has no choice but to go to the basketball camp. Dom is predictably resentful about this decision and his father’s control over his life.

The rest of LeBron’s family are just filler characters that don’t get much screen time and don’t add much to the story. LeBron’s wife Kamiyah (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) chimes in early in the movie to say to LeBron about his parenting skills for Dom: “I’m worried that you’re pushing him too hard … He doesn’t need a coach. He needs a dad.”

In this movie, LeBron and Kamiyah have two other children: teenager Darius (played by Ceyair J Wright) and kindergarten-age Xosha (played by Harper Leigh Alexander). Darius’ only purpose in the movie is to be a teasing older brother and occasional basketball practice opponent with Dom. Xosha’s only purpose in the movie is to be a cute and charming kid.

Because “Space Jam: Legacy” is a Warner Bros. commercial, LeBron and takes Dom with him to a business meeting at Warner Bros. Studios headquarters in Burbank, California. Also in this meeting is LeBron’s childhood friend Malik (played by Khris Davis), who is now LeBron’s manager. It’s at Warner Bros. headquarters that viewers first see Al G. Rhythm giving a monologue, as he lurks in the recesses of some giant computer mainframe somewhere in a back room.

Al G. Rhythm can take many different shapes and forms, but he comes out looking like Cheadle when he wants to look like a human. Al G. Rhythm has concocted an idea to use Warner 3000 technology to scan LeBron into Warner Bros. movies so that LeBron’s image can replace major characters in these movies. Warner Bros. executives will present this idea to LeBron in this meeting. The unnamed executives are portrayed in cameo roles by Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun, who look like they know they’re in a dumb movie and just want a quick and easy paycheck.

Al G. Rhythm has a sidekick named Pete, which is a mute blue blob that doesn’t do much but act as a sounding board for Al G. Rhythm. Before the meeting takes place, Al G. Rhythm gives this monologue: “I’ve searched far and wide for the perfect partner for this launch. And I finally found him, Pete. He’s a family man, an entrepreneur, a social media superstar, with millions of fans worldwide. Algorithmically speaking, he’s more than an athlete. He’s a king!”

Is this an algorithm or a LeBron James fanboy? Al G. Rhythm then continues with his ranting manifesto, “I’m stuck in the server-verse. No one knows who I am or what I do. But all that changes today, because Warner Bros. launches the revolutionary technology that I masterminded. Today, it’s my time to shine! Once I partner with King James and combine his fame with my incredible tech, I will finally get the recognition and respect that I so richly deserve!”

There’s just one big problem. In the business meeting, LeBron says he hates the idea of being scanned and put into Warner Bros. movies as a replacement character. (But in real life, apparently, he had no problem being put into a Warner Bros. commercial posing as a movie.) The sycophantic executives agree, and the idea is scrapped.

Al G. Rhythm is angry and insulted that his idea was rejected, so he kidnaps Dom, who becomes trapped in the server-verse. And the only way that Dom can be returned to his family is if LeBron and a basketball team that LeBron has assembled win in a “death match” game against Al G. Rhythm and the villain basketball team that Al G. Rhythm has assembled. All of this requires LeBron to go in the server-verse to find Dom. When LeBron (in animated form) ends up in Looney Tunes World, you know what happens next.

At first, LeBron arrives in Looney Tunes World in simplistic animated form. But then, Al G. Rhythm shows up to “enhance” all the players who will be on Lebron’s basketball team, so they go from looking like hand-drawn 2-D animation to computer-generated 3-D animation. The team is called the Tune Squad. The Looney Tunes characters who are on LeBron’s team act exactly how you would expect them to act.

The “Space Jam: A New Legacy” filmmakers got their money’s worth because a small number of voice actors protray several of the Looney Tunes characters, instead having all of the characters each voiced by a different actor. Jeff Bergman is the voice of Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear. Eric Bauza is the voice of Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd and Marvin the Martian. Gabriel Iglesias is the voice of Speedy Gonzales. Zendaya is the voice of Lola Bunny. Candi Milo is the voice of Granny. Bob Bergen is the voice of Tweety Bird. Fred Tatasciore is the voice of Taz.

In opposition to the Tune Squard, Al G. Rhythm has created the Good Squad by enhancing real-life NBA and WNBA star players into computerized mutant super-villains. Anthony Davis is The Brow, a giant blue falcon-like creature with a 30-foot wing span. Diana Taurasi is White Mamba, a super-sized mutant snake. Klay Thompson is Wet/Fire, a creature that can create flames and water, as if that wouldn’t be considered a major foul on a basketball court. Nneka Ogwumike is Arachnneka, a large mutant spider. Damien Lillard is Chronos, a time-manipulating creature that can use Dame Time to slow down opponents while he can quickly use fighting techniques.

The big basketball showdown that serves as the movie’s climax is so formulaic that it will be easy to get distracted by trying to spot all the characters from Warner Bros. movies that are in the audience. The audience is supposed to consists of thousands of LeBron’s social media followers who were beamed in from the Internet. But somehow, those who ended up getting the most prominent placement in the front rows were various characters from Warner Bros.-owned entertaint entities, such as Harry Potter, King Kong, Joker, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Scooby-Doo, Neo from “The Matrix,” Austin Powers, plus characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Game of Thrones,” “Gremlins,” “The Mask,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Some of the Warner Bros. promotion overload is ridiculous and embarrassing to those involved. There’s a scene where Bugs Bunny is dressed as Batman and LeBron is dressed as Robin. There’s a scene where Porky Pig starts rapping in a way that’s has as much hip-hop cred as Judy Garland singing in “The Wizard of Oz.” (In other words: none.)

And there’s even a scene where Al G. Rhythm yells, “King Kong’s got nothing on me!” It’s a famous line said by Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning role as a corrupt cop in 2001’s “Training Day,” which is (you guessed it) a Warner Bros. movie. After Al G. Rhythm shouts, “King Kong’s got nothing on me!,” King Kong is shown in the audience, crossing his arms in a snit, like a kid who’s been insulted on a playground.

The “family-friendly” messages of “Space Jam: Legacy” are secondary to the constant regurgitation of whatever “intellectual property” Warner Bros. is hawking. The word “inellectual” is an oxymoron for this idiotic film. The animation and visual effects aren’t going to be nominated for any major awards. Much of what happens in the movie is duller than it should be. And even the big basketball game toward the end isn’t very exciting. There’s a big “reveal” about someone on the Goon Squad that’s not surprising at all.

Cheadle is the movie’s only live-action cast member who seems to be having some fun because his performance is deliberately campy. His computer algorithm character has more personality than the human characters in this movie. The rest of the cast members in the movie’s live-action roles give mediocre and bland performances.

Ernie Johnson and Lil Rel Howery portray the basketball game’s announcers in what should have been hilarious roles, but everything these characters say is uninteresting. And unlike the original songs in the first “Space Jam” movie (which featured R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”), none of the original songs in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” will become a hit anthem. The lines of dialogue given to the animated characters are also forgettable. The jokes fall flatter than Daffy Duck’s beak.

And as for LeBron James (who is one of the producers of “Space Jam: A New Legacy”), even the filmmakers know he wasn’t cast in this movie for his acting, because he says this line in the movie’s scene with the Warner Bros. executives: “I’m a ball player. And athletes acting—that never goes well.” That’s probably one of the most genuine things said in this overly contrived corporate movie that pushes plenty to sell but ultimately has a shortage of good filmmaking.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Space Jam: A New Legacy” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on July 16, 2021. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Goldie,’ starring Slick Woods

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Slick Woods in “Goldie” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Goldie”

Directed by Sam De Jong

Culture Representation: Set in the tough streets of New York City’s Bronx borough, this suspenseful drama has a predominantly African American cast of characters representing the poor and middle class.

Culture Clash: An 18-year-old aspiring dancer, who’s fixated on getting a yellow coat to wear in a music video, finds herself unexpectedly taking care of her underage sisters while trying to hide from child welfare authorities.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people interested in stories about urban street life, from the perspective of African American characters.

Slick Woods in "Goldie"
Slick Woods in “Goldie” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Goldie” takes viewers on a frenetic ride over a few days in the life of sassy aspiring dancer Goldie (played by Slick Woods, in a charismatic feature-film debut), an 18-year-old who lives in New York City’s Bronx borough. Goldie unexpectedly finds herself taking care of her underage younger sisters while trying to dodge Child Protective Services. Along the way, she learns things about herself and what she really wants out of life.

In the beginning of the movie, Goldie’s only preoccupation seems to be figuring out a way to get her big break as a dancer. She’s seen running through the streets to get to New Hope Community Center, where she performs a hip-hop dance routine for an audience of mostly underage kids and their parents. She then calls her 12-year-old sister Supreme (Jazmyn C. Dorsey) up on stage, so Supreme can play the drums in a separate performance, which ends when Goldie and another girl dance on stage with Supreme. It looks like a carefree moment, but Goldie’s life at home isn’t so happy-go-lucky.

Goldie lives in a shelter, where she shares one room with her single mother, Carol played by (Marsha Stephanie Blake); Carol’s drug-dealing boyfriend Frank (played by Danny Hoch); and Goldie’s half-sisters Supreme and  8-year-old Sherrie (played by Alanna Renee Tyler-Tompkins). It all sounds like it’s going to be one of those typical “urban ghetto” stories that have been told too many times before.

However, writer/director Sam De Jong (who happens to be Dutch) infuses the movie with a lot of visual elements that work well by striking a balance between making the movie gritty yet occasionally whimsical. For example, in some of the scenes, a graffiti-like colorful palette surrounds the people in the movie, giving the impression that they are a living urban mural.

And when a new character is introduced, we hear the voice of Sherrie or Supreme saying the character’s name, as an artsy urban graphic appears showing the name on the screen. It’s because of these unique touches that “Goldie” doesn’t completely fall into a lot of the clichés about African Americans who are involved in “street life.”

The movie is also more than a coming-of-age story. It’s a chase movie with a twist: Instead of trying to escape from the police or criminals (which is the usual story in “urban” movies), the protagonist is trying to keep her family together by trying to escape from Child Protective Services.

Unfortunately, one negative stereotype that “Goldie” keeps perpetuating is the idea that young African Americans are always committing crimes. Goldie and most of the people in her social circle break the law on a regular basis, not necessarily for survival but just for the hell of it. And for most of the story, she’s in materialistic pursuit of getting enough money to buy a long canary-yellow faux-fur coat that she’s convinced will be her lucky charm if she can get to wear it in a music video.

The music video that she hopes will be her big break is for a local rapper named Tiny (played by real-life hop-hop star A$AP Ferg), who’s had some success on the charts, and he’s planning to film his next music video that weekend. Goldie meets with an acquaintance named Jay (played by Khris Davis), who has the connections to recommend Goldie to be a dancer in the video. Jay says that he’ll think about recommending her if she can film an audition video. If he likes what he sees, he says that he can pass it along to the right people.

Just when she’s planning on which outfit to buy for her audition, Goldie gets fired from her job at a discount clothing store because of chronic tardiness. She refuses to leave her boss’ office after she gets fired, so he calls security on her, and they literally have to throw her out.

When she passes by the store with the yellow coat in the display window,  and she asks the owner to try on the coat. He says she can only try it on if she shows that she has the money to buy it. The store owner’s excuse is that because the coat is in the display window, he can’t let just anyone try it on.

Here’s where the negative stereotypes start for Goldie: She shoplifts a skimpy gold outfit that looks like a combination one-piece bathing suit and jumper, because she thinks she needs to dress like a video vixen to get noticed in the audition video. On the one hand, it’s realistic to show that young women are expected to dress this way in rap videos. On the other hand, it’s kind of disappointing that the movie made Goldie a thief to get a cheap-looking, sleazy outfit. With the help of Supreme, Goldie films her audition using her phone and wearing the outfit.

Meanwhile, back at home, Goldie gets upset with Frank because he’s doing drug deals out of their room while her younger sisters are nearby. She scolds Frank and her mother by saying that she doesn’t want Supreme and Sherrie to see any of the drug deals. Goldie’s conflict with Frank escalates when he says that $300 of his is missing, and he accuses Goldie of stealing the money. She denies it, and they end up in a physical fight with Goldie spraying Frank in the face with hot pink spray paint.

Things go from bad to worse for Goldie when her mother is arrested for reasons that are not stated in the movie. The police, who have a warrant, arrest Carol at the shelter. Goldie doesn’t stick around for Child Protective Services to show up, because she figures that Supreme and Sherrie will be separated. Goldie takes off with her sisters and then begins a desperate search for a place to hide until they can find out what will happen to their mother.

Before Goldie runs away from the shelter with the girls, she grabs a bunch of items, including her mother’s prescription pills (about 150), with the intent to sell the pills. Even in this dire situation, Goldie still has it in her head that she wants to be in Tiny’s music video that weekend, so her scheme to raise money isn’t just for food and shelter but so she can also buy that yellow coat.

This strange dichotomy shows how brash and illogical teenagers can be when they’re not fully mature enough to make responsible choices and think about long-term consequences. On the one hand, Goldie has a certain level of street smarts. On the other hand, Goldie is very naïve about how the music business works, because she doesn’t seem to know that being a dancer in a music video for a C-list rapper isn’t going to solve her money problems. There are minimum wage jobs that pay more than being what amounts to a glorified extra in a low-budget music video.

As she races from place to place, Goldie is looking for someone to buy her pills and give her somewhere to stay. The people she asks for help react in different ways.

One is a woman named Janet (played by Edwina Findley Dickerson), who’s close to Carol’s age and lives by herself in a house. Another is Goldie’s friend Elijah, nicknamed Eli (played by George Sample III), who doesn’t want to get too involved because he’s out on parole and doesn’t want to be arrested again.

She also turns to a drug dealer named Jose (played by Jose Fernandez), who is Goldie’s occasional lover, to see if he’ll buy the pills. And she also tries to sell the pills to her former co-worker enemy Princess (played by Angela Griszell), who has a long blonde wig that Goldie ends up stealing because she wants to wear it for the music video shoot.

And as a last resort, Goldie goes to her estranged biological father Richard, (played by Gbenga Akinnagbe), who works for the U.S. Postal Service and has started a new family with another woman. Because the movie’s cast is a mixture of professional actors and non-professional actors who live in the area where the movie was filmed, there’s an authenticity to these characters that probably wouldn’t be there if only experienced actors were in the cast.

On the surface, it might seem silly that Goldie is so focused on getting enough money for a coat, while her life is falling apart with bigger problems. But a closer look at how she’s acting shows that it’s really not about the coat, but what it symbolizes—her best shot at being discovered as a dancer so she can pursue her dream career that she hopes will be the path to a much better life. What she discovers at the end of the story is what kind of person she wants to be in order to pursue that dream.

Film Movement released “Goldie” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 21, 2020.

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