His Airness and His Hareness Team Up for a Loony ‘Jam’
“Space Jam” whimsically teams basketball superstar Michael Jordan and cartoon icon Bugs Bunny in a blend of live-action and animation containing more rowdiness and broad humor than vintage Looney Tunes charm. Amazingly, this handsome, ingenious Warner Bros. comedy marks Bugs’ feature debut in a leading role.
Shrewdly, producer Ivan Reitman’s raft of writers makes all the maneuvering required to bring these two giants of sports and popular culture together a key part of the fun, while legendary commercials director Joe Pytka brings maximum impact and pace to every moment.
“Space Jam” also looks great, with veteran cinematographer Michael Chapman’s palette well-matched with the rich colors of the cartoon sequences created by Warner’s feature animation division under its producer Ron Tippe and his vast number of artists and technicians. The idea has been to bring back the whole Looney Tunes crew, right down to Tweety and Pepe Le Pew, and place them in a contemporary setting. The special effects, created by Cinesite under Ed Jones’ direction, are suitably impressive.
“Space Jam” has Jordan playing himself, announcing his 1993 retirement from basketball and his switch to baseball, with its less-than-stellar results the source of much good-humored joking. Meanwhile, on another planet the evil promoter Swackhammer (the gleeful voice of Danny DeVito) decides that his Moron Mountain theme park could be perked up by the Looney Tuners and thereby dispatches a five-member alien team to Earth to kidnap Bugs and company.
Thanks to a convenient sense of fair play, the aliens, known as Nerdlucks, agree to a basketball game to decide the Looneys’ fate. But there’s a hitch: The diminutive Nerdlucks have magically siphoned off the talent of NBA stars Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley and morph them into the Monstars, a team of giants that loom like a stand of redwoods. You’ve guessed it: Bugs figures that only Michael Jordan can save their day.
Adults will know where “Space Jam” is heading, although they may need to guide younger kids through plot convolutions along the way. Still, the filmmakers make the getting there pretty entertaining, though scarcely subtle, taking care to send the message to youngsters that it takes heart as much as skill to win.
Pytka, whose first feature was the hilarious but neglected 1989 horse-racing comedy “Let It Ride,” has enabled Jordan to relax and play himself without a trace of self-consciousness. His warmth and unpretentiousness set off his formidable physical presence and grace. Wayne Knight plays an unctuous baseball team publicist and Theresa Randle is seen briefly as Jordan’s wife.
Former basketball star Larry Bird and an uncredited Bill Murray add to the laughs as Jordan’s golf partners, and Billy West heads the fine cast of the cartoon voices, playing Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. “Space Jam” is no “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but it works well enough.
* MPAA rating: PG, for some mild cartoon language. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for all ages.
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Michael Jordan: Himself
Wayne Knight: Stan Podolak
Theresa Randle: Juanita
Bill Murray: Himself
Billy West: Voice of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Dee Bradley Baker: Voice of Daffy Duck, Tazmanian Devil, Bull
Danny DeVito: Voice of Swackhammer
A Warner Bros. presentation of an Ivan Reitman/David Falk-Ken Ross production. Director Joe Pytka. Producers Joe Medjuck and Daniel Goldberg. Executive producers David Falk and Ken Ross. Screenplay by Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick and Timothy Harris & Herschel Weingrod. Cinematographer Michael Chapman. Animation producer Ron Tippe. Animation directors Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone. Animation art director Bill Perkins. Special live-action/animation visual effects created by Cinesite under the direction of Ed Jones. Editor Sheldon Kahn. Costumes Marlene Stewart. Music James Newton Howard. Marcus Miller. Production designer Geoffrey Kirkland. Art director David Klassen. Set designer Marco Rubeo. Set decorator Jennifer Williams. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.