Review: Overlong “Space Jam” sequel only provides a measure of fun

Bob Bergen, Jeff Bergman, Candi Milo, Eric Bauza, LeBron James, and Zendaya in Space Jam: A New Legacy / Warner Bros.

Even if the LeBron James-Michael Jordan debate over who is the King of basketball has been settled in your mind, the latter still seems to be chasing the original in some form or fashion.

That can be the only explanation for the today’s debut of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” in theaters and on HBO Max, which stars James as a fictionalized version of himself teaming up with the past-their-prime Warner Bros. cartoon stars Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Lola Bunny, Porky Pig and their pals for a film depicting a cross between a Matrix-type video game and an NBA/WNBA all-star game.

The original “Space Jam” bowed in 1996 starring Jordan among other NBA stars of the day playing a high-stakes basketball game with the Looney Tunes characters to essentially save the universe. The sequel is similar, except this game is played out on a video-game platform designed by James’ fictional son, Dom (Dedric Joe).

Don Cheadle sparkles as the ruthless Al-G Rhythm, the human-like embodiment of Warner Bros. Studio’s artificial intelligence program, who steals Dom’s tech in an attempt to take over the studio and put LeBron in his place.

Much like the original film, the Looney Tunes characters team up with the basketball star to attempt to save Dom and overthrow Al-G Rhythm’s nefarious plans.

Taking a cue from “The Lego Movie,” many characters from Warner Bros.’s extensive catalogue of films and properties make cameos. Everyone from King Kong and Harry Potter to Yogi Bear, Iron Giant, Wonder Woman and Superman make cameos. Classic films such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Casablanca” among many others earn nods. Essentially the movie is a big commercial for James and Warner Bros. movies and TV shows.

While the storyline is mediocre at best and the film is way too long at one hour and 55 minutes to sustain my attention, I did get a kick out of a lot of the gags and enjoyed spotting the cameos. The animation itself is excellent and blended seamlessly with the live-action footage, but there just isn’t enough heft or heart to the story to warrant such a long running time.

That said I don’t think middle-age men — even those who are lifelong Looney Tune fans — are the target audience. However, I do not envy the chore parents will have in keeping their little ones settled in a theater for the full running time of the movie.

(PG) 1 hr. 55 min.
Grade: C-

Batman: The Long Halloween Part One

Jensen Ackles in Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One / DC Comics

If you are aching for a Batman fix, and you just can’t wait until next year when Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” opens, then Warner Home Video might have the perfect product to feed your need with its latest animated movie “Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1”

The movie adapts the excellent comic-book series from the late 1990s of the same name, written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale, which is set in the second year of Batman’s career when super villains begin to push to push organized crime even further to the fringes fo Gotham City’s society. Reeves has said the comic series is one of the key influences among several others for his iteration of the Batman mythos.

While the Blu Ray is only the first half of the story, ending with a compelling cliffhanger that will be resolved when :Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2” is released Aug. 11, the movie in itself proved very satisfying as it sets up what will no doubt be the fall that transforms crusading Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent into the tragic Bat-villain Two-Face.

The comic and the film were influenced heavily by Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece “The Godfather.” The plot revolves around a series of unsolved murders of Gotham City gangsters by a psychopath known as the Holiday Killer. His schtick, of course, is offing his victims on a holiday.

Director Chris Palmer and screenwriter Tim Sheridan serve up an excellent adaption of the comic series, which does deviate here and there from the original story.

Jensen Ackles voices the youngish Batman, who is still honing his detective skills. Josh Duhamel lends his voice to Dent, whose marriage is on the rocks because of his commitment to work. The late Naya Rivera plays Catwoman/Selina Kyle. Is she a love interest or a villain? Maybe both.

Troy Baker returns as Mark Hamill-inspired Joker, and David Dastmalchian portrays Calendar Man, whose role in this story was inspired by the Hannibal Lector character from Thomas Harris’ novels.

This is a very strong adaption of the comic material that has me looking forward to the conclusion in a few weeks. I know how the comic book ended, but I am anticipating and hoping for something of a twist like Warner Home Video has provided with other DC Comics adaptations.

(R) 1 hr. 25 min.

New in Local Theaters

Space Jam: A New Legacy (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 55 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Rogers Towne, Bentonville Skylight

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 1 hr. 38 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle

Roadrunner (watch trailer) / (R) 1hr. 58 min. / Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – The African Queen

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen / Romulus Films

With John Huston directing, and Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn starring, how could “The African Queen” be anything but a classic.

Gorgeously shot on location in Uganda and the Congo with further footage shot Ilseworth Studios in Middlesex, England, the movie is an archetypical opposites-attract tale about a missionary (Hepburn) who falls for an uncouth cargo-boat captain (Bogart) in this 1951 crowd-pleaser that is equal parts adventure, romance, and comedy. Though the movie is celebrating its 70th anniversary, it remains influential to this day.

Not only are films like “Rooster Cogburn,” “The Creature of the Black Lagoon” and “Anaconda” films influenced by “The African Queen,” but the movie was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride, which in return is being adapted into the House of Mouse’s upcoming summer blockbuster of the same name.

The new film stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose character’s wardrobe seems to have been borrowed from Bogey’s closet. It opens in theaters and on Disney + on July 24. The trailer for “Jungle Cruise” hints at mystical undercurrents that might remind one of “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and its sequels.

In “The African Queen,” Bogey plays Charlie Allnut, the drunken, rough-as-a-cob captain of the small cargo craft The African Queen. He becomes mixed up with Hepburn’s Rose Sayer, an oh-so-proper Methodist missionary, when German colonial troops burn down the village where she and her brother are ministering during World War I.

While I prefer his performances in “Casablanca,” “To Have and Have Not,” and the “The Maltese Falcon,” Bogart won his lone Oscar playing Allnut. I attribute the victory to playing opposite Hepburn, who was also nominated for an Academy Award but did not win. Hepburn just has a way of elevating her co-stars, even ones whose light usually shines just as bright as hers.

Their chemistry is excellent and is just about all that is on screen for two-thirds of the film, other than the lush river scenery shot in Technicolor by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Huston knows exactly how to make both stars shine, playing to their strengths in a film fraught with danger but also filled with laughs.

In conjunction with Fathom Events, the movie is showing at 3 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Malco Razorback. “The African Queen” is also available on Amazon Prime.