Friday, November 19, 2010

Space Jam

As a child raised in the losing tradition of Chicago sports (My name is Brian, and... I am a Cubs fan), the Bulls first three-peat was something special.  When Michael Jordan abruptly retired in 1993, I was crushed.  After a brief taste of the sweetness of victory, was I doomed to a lifetime of rooting for teams that will never win again?  Well, in the case of the Bears and Cubs, probably.  As it turned out, though, that was not the case for the Bulls.  As everyone knows, Michael returned in mid-1995 and they began their second Championship three-peat in the 95-96 season.  I had always assumed that the reasons for Jordan's comeback were a mix of him coming to terms with the death of his father and the fact that he really sucked as a minor league baseball player.  It wasn't until I revisited Space Jam that I realized that it was, in fact, a documentary on what motivated Jordan to return to basketball.

With a name like Space Jam, it should come as no surprise that most of the movie takes place in space the land of Looney Tunes.  You see, an evil (space) amusement park owner, Mister Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito), realizes that his (space) park is just not fantastic enough to draw crowds any more.  He comes to the conclusion that his (space) park needs the Looney Tunes as his star attractions.  Not one to risk being refused, Swackhammer sends his underlings, the Nerdlucks, to Earth with ray guns to help "convince" the goofy cartoon characters.  And, in case you were wondering where you can find the Looney Tunes, they live in the center of the Earth.  This is a documentary, so you can consider that a science fact.  Even when facing powerful ray guns, though, the Looney Tunes are still a clever and wacky bunch.  Just when Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck and the rest were ready to surrender, Bugs Bunny pulled out a tried and true standard; he scribbled in a book that he had retitled (in pencil) "How to Kidnap" that all kidnap victims get a chance to defend themselves.  The dim-witted Nerdlucks, who happen to top out at one foot tall, fall for the bit and let the Looney Tunes choose form of challenge.  Seeing that their opponents are very small, with short arms and legs, the Looney Tunes choose basketball as the form of challenge.

Obviously, the Looney Tunes, with their anthropomorphic height of approximately three feet tall each, dominate the Nerdlucks in the game and avoid a life of (space) slavery.  But wait...!  The Nerdlucks have a trick up their sleeve; they attend some NBA games and somehow steal the talent away from the best professional players in the game.  Who did they steal from?  Charles Barkley (Hall of Famer), Patrick Ewing (Hall of Famer), Larry Johnson (two-time All-Star), Muggsy Bogues (the shortest player in NBA history), and Shawn Bradley (who was tall and, uh, gangly), all of whom were left unable to catch a pass or shoot the ball without their talent.  With the "best" NBA talent in tow (more on that later), the Nerdlucks return to Lonney Tunes land and absorb their new talent, which gives them great strength, size, basketball skills, a new group name (the Monstars), and (of course) matching uniforms.  It also gives them a theme song.

The next time any of these five rappers claim to be "hard" or have "street cred," someone should mention the song they did for a Bugs Bunny movie.

Anyway, to counter the Nerdlucks Monstars on the basketball court, Bugs and friends kidnap Michael Jordan to play on their side.  He doesn't really want to, but the Monstars basically call him chicken, so it's on like Donkey Kong.  Apparently, Michaels everywhere have a problem walking away from an insult that grave.  I don't want to spoil the ending for you, but Michael rediscovers his love for basketball and his desire to humiliate Charles Barkley on the court.

With a cast so diverse as to include professional athletes, cartoon characters, aliens, and the occasional professional actor, you would be justified in wondering how good the acting is in this movie.  But guess what?  This is a documentary, so there is no "acting," just how things really happened.  That said, I would like to point out that Sir Charles has such amazing conversational skills that he can make Dave Grohl extremely uncomfortable in a matter of moments.  It is interesting to see Wayne Knight as Jordan's personal assistant, but it explains how he killed time between Seinfeld episodes.  Bill Murray is as awesome here, in real life, as he was in his other hilarious 1996 movie, Larger Than Life, where he co-starred with an elephant.  The athletes are a little awkward to watch on screen, trying in vain to time their punchlines, but they should not be judged too harshly, since the Nerdlucks stole all their talent.  This was just one of many features made by director Joe Pytka (IMDB gives him a whopping total of seven directorial credits) and while he may not have won any Oscars for this brave foray into documentary filmmaking, he did get nominated for a Director's Guild of America award for the "Hare Jordan" Nike commercial.

Now, if you didn't know any better, you might think that this was a cheap knock-off of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  However, this isn't a movie with actors jumping around in front of a green screen and having their animated pals added in later.  This really happened.  Michael Jordan was kidnapped by Looney Tunes and later arrived at a minor league baseball game via a spaceship.  Fact.  And his house was just a normal suburban house, not a mansion.  Fact.  And young Michael, as a child, practiced what he would always get away with as an adult: traveling.

That's a good thing, because if this wasn't a true story, then some parts of this movie would just stick out as downright peculiar.  I'll ignore the wisdom of having an accused child pornographer/closet dweller/urination enthusiast performing the theme song to a movie aimed at families.  I'll pretend that Michael Jordan didn't play in a game with a final score of 78-77.  And I'll look the other way as Lola Bunny, despite her gender and three foot height, manages to dunk.  My problem is that the Nerdlucks identified Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley as part of the NBA elite.  What, were Will Perdue and Dickie Simpkins busy?  Muggsy wasn't bad, but being the shortest guy in the league isn't a trait I would look for when trying to steal somebody's talent.  Shawn Bradley, though...that's just a terrible choice.  Honestly, I don't see a difference between his regular play and how he looked after his talent was stolen.  But, truth is stranger than fiction, and we need to accept that these are the facts.  With such ridiculousness inherent in the story, it was brave for Michael Jordan to risk ridicule by showing the world exactly what he went through and why he returned to basketball.  He did it to keep the Looney Tunes, and laughter, here on Earth.

If this was just an ordinary children's movie, I would have to give it
Nevertheless, this is, perhaps, the greatest true story (that eventually became a partially animated movie) of our time. 
 I reviewed this movie (and posted a slightly altered version of this review) at the request of my friends at NoBulljive, the best Chicago Bulls blog on the interweb.  Have a request?  Let me know.

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