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Space Jam

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Space Jam

Starring: Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny
Director: Joe Pytka
Rated: PG
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: November 1996
Genres: Animation, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Bill Murray, Theresa Randle, Wayne Knight, Daffy Duck, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

We need to clear up a widely held misunderstanding. Most of the country by now has heard of the hugely popular Warner Brothers film SPACE JAM. Most of you by now are aware that it is a mixture of animation, featuring all your favorite Looney Tunes characters, and live action, featuring various sports stars from the NBA. So far; so good.

Now, you are probably under the impression that Michael Jordan ACTS in this movie. This is patently false. What Michael Jordan does is APPEAR in the movie; he never acts. With the except of a single brief smile, he manages to maintain a dispassionate and deadpan look throughout the picture. Since he gets $40,0000,000 a year in product endorsements, perhaps his actor's salary was just pocket change to him. More likely, he just can not act -- most of us can't.

Michael Jordan is certainly a great athlete, and he provides a good clean-cut role model for youngsters, but this does not an actor make. The good news is that the cartoon characters in the film are excellent and the story by Leonardo Benvenuti, Timothy Harris, Steve Rudnick, and Herschel Weingrod is well developed and quite funny. This is one of those rare examples of a good movie with a lead that is DOA.

SPACE JAM opens with a seven year old Michael Jordan displaying amazing talent at shooting hoops. He dreams of being a star in the NBA. After a collage of real stills and video memorabilia of his rise to glory, we come to a grown Michael Jordan who has conquered basketball and gone onto baseball. Until this point the story is little more that a schmaltzy autobiography.

Never fear, the animated characters are here. A group of cartoon aliens under the direction of the evil Swackhammer (voice by Danny DeVito) have an amusement park called Moron Mountain. The guests are becoming bored so Swackhammer sends the aliens off to capture all the Looney Tunes. Daffy Duck (voice by Dee Bradley Baker) takes one look at the pip-squeak aliens and laughs, "Oh, fear clutches my breast!" When they turn a chicken into a skeleton with their ray gun, he changes his tune.

The Looney Tunes challenge the height-challenged aliens to a game of basketball to see whether the Tunes have to go to Moron Mountain or not. Ever confident Daffy ridicules them with, "Too bad you can't practice getting taller, boys." They then go and suck the talent and stature of various NBA heroes which makes the aliens look like major steroid abusers.

Back up on earth Bill Murray and Larry Bird are playing golf with Michael Jordan. Costume designer Marlene Stewart has Murray in a classic example of how not to dress on the golf course. Below his umbrella hat is a travelogue shirt followed by plaid Bermuda shorts and finished up with falling down old socks and battered shoes. The Looney Tunes pull Jordan into the Tune world and enlist his help in defeating the aliens.

The picture works as a feature length cartoon. The Looney Tunes are as funny as I ever remember seeing them. There are constant jokes about product royalties. Daffy kisses his rear because it has a big Warner Brothers logo pasted on it. Daffy and Bugs Bunny (voice by Billy West) grouse about not getting any money from all the lunch boxes and other toys with their faces on them. Daffy tells him, "We've got to get a new agent. We're getting screwed!"

This "screwed" line is funny, but it is this and a couple of others where the humans talk about getting their "butts whipped" that gets the film a PG rating rather than a G. Since there are so few G shows made, it is a shame that the producers went for a more bankable PG picture. Yes, there are many teenagers and adults who will not go to G films thinking subconsciously that they are only for little kids, but why do the studios keep pandering to these prejudices? Changing these few lines would not have made the picture one scintilla less funny.

All the Tunes are hilarious in the show, but Daffy is the best mainly because he gets the best material. He refers to the human environment as "3D land."

No one is immune from the jabs in the show. They even go after arch rival Disney when Bugs remarks, "What kind of a Mickey Mouse outfit would name their team The Ducks?"

My favorite scene is the highly charged announcement of the players at the big game where Jordan and the tunes play the alien hunks with the NBA talent inside. Two small mice steal the microphone from the sleeping announcer and manage to boom out each player's name and stats. When Bugs enters the arena, the mice call out on the PA, "Standing at three foot three, four foot if you count the ears, is Bugs Bunny."

Along with the humor, the show is upbeat and full of energy thanks to the strong live action direction by Joe Pytka and animation direction by Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone. Joe Pytka's only other film is LET IT RIDE which I hated back in 1989. Here he redeems himself in my eyes. I had great fun watching the film as did my son, my wife, and my 70 year old parents.

Technically the film is a success as well. The colors are bright primary ones that radiant joy. Other than the lifeless lead and the little bit of needless bad language, I think the show is good fun, and I believe your family will too.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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