It's the kind of high concept, boardroom idea that Hollywood is famous for. You can almost hear the moguls in the huddle: We get Michael Jordan and we pair him with a cartoon character - say, Bugs Bunny - and we have them battling space aliens on the basketball court. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" meets "Hoosiers"!
But "Space Jam" is no "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" . . . though it certainly owes a lot to that film in terms of both sensibility and specific characterizations. (Right down to a variation on Jessica Rabbit - in this case, an actual cottontail.)"Space Jam" begins as "The Michael Jordan Story," with a re-enacted childhood anecdote he has talked about. Then a series of NBA clips shows Michael at his courtside best under the opening credits. It's a lovefest (ego trip?) for Michael, as we hear people telling him how wonderful he is.
To his credit, however, Jordan does lampoon his short-lived baseball career, though children won't get it. (Nor will they get the movie spoofs, which range from "Patton" to "Pulp Fiction"!)
Anyway, while Jordan is floundering at baseball, a group of stubby aliens is sent to Earth from Moron Mountain, an interplanetary theme park run by a cigar-chomping bad guy (voiced by Danny DeVito). Their mission is to kidnap the Looney Tunes characters - Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety and Sylvester, etc. - and enslave them as chained vaudevillians.
Since they're so short, Bugs challenges the aliens to a basketball game to determine whether they will become slaves. But the aliens cheat, by stealing the basketball "talent" from five NBA superstars - Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsey Bogues, Larry Johnson and Utah's own homegrown Shawn Bradley. (At one point Bradley makes a joke about his Mormon mission.)
With this talent, the five little aliens turn into huge monsters and wallop the less-than-talented Looney Tunes team. Until Bugs recruits Jordan to assist.
It's actually not a bad idea, and there are some funny bits of business along the way (an extended cameo appearance by Bill Murray, a jab at the Disney empire, a couple of Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote routines, etc.).
But while great pains were obviously taken to make the film technically dazzling, the script is weak. There are far too many places where the film bogs down and becomes quite dull as sight gags fall flat, quips collapse and Jordan's expressionless performance becomes a liability. (Pairing Jordan with Wayne Knight as an ersatz Abbott & Costello also doesn't work.)
And why do we have to have jokes about spitting and flatulence and other vulgarisms in a movie aimed at children?
Still, there are some amusing bits of business, and it's quite a sight to see Michael Jordan bounced around by the aliens as he is literally rolled up into a ball.
"Space Jam" is rated PG for the aforementioned vulgarity, along with the expected cartoon violence.