It took six writers to come up with this hot mess called “Space Jam: A New Legacy” on the 25th anniversary of the film that teamed up Bugs Bunny with hoops legend Michael Jordan. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip”), the film is an overblown special effects extravaganza that pits LeBron and the Looney Tunes characters in a basketball game against villain Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), an algorithm inside the Warner Bros archive, who recruits a slew of NBA and WNBA players to play for his team. Like a Mario video game, powerups and bonus moves rule the court thanks to LeBron’s fictional son Dom (Cedric Joe) who’d rather be at E3 than at basketball camp.

Steven Yeun and Sarah Silverman have cameos as WB studio executives who try and convince LeBron that taking his King James brand and incorporating it into the studio’s archives as a digital character who could interact with any of their intellectual properties (i.e., “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Matrix”) would be a great idea. LeBron seems just as confused by the pitch as we are and concludes, “Athletes acting, that never goes well.”

Now don’t blame the studio’s talking heads for the bad idea, it was dreamed up by the algorithm that lives inside the Warner Bros 3000 computer archive. In fact, the algorithm has a name, Al G. Rhythm and he’s played by Don Cheadle with undeniable flair. Not sure the film’s writers understand what an algorithm is — here it can send Silverman emails — unless they are using “Ralph Breaks the Internet” as a substitute for Computer Science classes. Who cares about Time and space complexity analysis when Taraji P. Henson’s character Yesss is so much cuter?

Al G. furious by LeBron’s rejection traps the Lakers MVP in his world “the Serververse” and challenges the NBA great to a basketball game against his Goon Squad using LeBron’s son Dom as leverage. If LeBron’s team wins, they can go free, if they lose, they’ll be trapped in Al G.’s world forever.

So, while LeBron is off trying to recruit players like Superman, King Kong, and The Iron Giant, Al G. is convincing young Dom to join his team by complementing his video game creation, a Mario-like basketball concept with crazy power-ups. LeBron wants to send Dom to basketball camp when all he really wants to do is attend an E3 video game camp, “You never let me just do me.”

Of course, LeBron doesn’t get to use any of the players he really wanted, he’s stuck with the Looney Tunes gang, while Al G. and Dom recruit NBA and WNBA players including Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, and Klay Thompson who are crossed with snakes, spiders, and robots to become villainous versions of themselves with special powers.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” fouls out with one misstep after another that includes a lack of comedy (I laughed twice during the nearly 2-hour film), rendering Bugs and his pals into 3-D CGI monstrosities (should have kept them in 2-D animation), mind-numbing special effects that make you feel like you’re watching (not playing) a video game, and a freaky assemblage of WB characters as the game spectators that include the Agents from “The Matrix,” Pennywise, flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz,” Batman and Robin from the 60’s TV show, Betty Davis from “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?,” the War Boys from “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and Jim Carrey’s The Mask, all on an agitating loop that has them overreacting even when the action is at a standstill. The only thing missing is an HBO Max logo with a reminder to subscribe now.

Sadly, the film lacks heart. It’s an emotionless spectacle that feels like an infomercial you are forced to watch at a corporate meeting, but then again, the 1996 “Space Jam” was conceived after Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny appeared together in a Nike commercial. Kids love video games and hip hop — which explains Porky’s scene as The Notorious P.I.G. — and this film is geared to them. NBA and Looney Tunes fans, forget it.

(1 star)

Now showing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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