Today I return and watch Joe Pytka’s Space Jam (1996)
Remember back in ’94 when Michael Jordan decided to try playing minor-league baseball? The dream of being that kind of dual athlete is rarely attained though, however much he wanted to make his late father proud, Jordan was destined to only make waves in one sport, basketball. This movie asks, despite not being very good at baseball, was there anything else that prompted his decision to go back to the hoops? Perhaps something a little wack, zany, dare I say Looney?
Yes in Space Jam a baseball failure Michael Jordan is whisked away to cartoon land, which is in the center of the Earth for some reason. Here the old Looney Tunes icons of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and all the rest have been threatened with slavery. An alien theme park named Moron Mountain has sent five moronic alien agents to gather the tunes who are to be made attractions on Moron Mountain. The Looney Tunes, not wanting to be alien slaves, decide to make a bet, putting everything on the line in a basketball game. They decide this because the aliens are very short you see, but they also have some cartoonish madness up their sleeves as they go about robbing top NBA players of talent, turning themselves into gigantic basketball playing monsters. So the tunes enlist Michael Jordan’s help, and Bill Murray is there as himself for some reason.
Space Jam, as a film is at once very corporate, yet still completely bonkers in a strangely individualistic way. On it’s surface it is a mashup of capitalist mascots, the hyper-marketed sports celebrity and the franchise players, The Looney Tunes. It has a classically corporate, marketed and appropriated anti-corporate message and a plethora of cameos and special appearances, in all respects this should be the most soulless manicured product imaginable. But when one really thinks about the elements going into it, deep incongruities begin to come out, is there really any connective tissue between Jordan and the Tunes? Not really. Throw in a director known for commercials and music videos, a guy who has a lot of difficulty maintaining a consistent tone or feel, and this mess starts getting really interesting.
In the smashing together of such odd elements as the dry delivery of Bill Murray with old fashioned cartoon antics, there is some actually effective humour here, though whether I am laughing at the movie or with it is hard to determine. Perhaps my favorite part is when Charles Barkley, having had is talent stolen, is wandering despondently through a music video shot in some American inner city with a heavy R&B soundtrack, comes across a group of youths playing. He wants to get in on their game and then they totally school him as he has no talent any more, this sequence then transitions into him and the rest of the talent stripped players undergoing a battery of medical examinations. This whole sequence is one of the finest examples of surreal humour out there. It is just bombastic with how over the top it is, it’s a music video about basketball players suffering from having their talent stolen by aliens who are planning to face the Looney Tunes in a game of B-Ball. I would recommend this movie for it’s bizarre and incongruous nature, it really is a telling relic of what the 90’s were all about as there was a mad scramble to market everything and anything to see what stuck. Check this out, it is one of the more bizarre time capsules to a very bizarre time. 3/5