Bugs Bunny, an animated cartoon character, shares above-the-title billing with Michael Jordan, a basketball player, in Space Jam. And why not? Snoopy promotes life insurance, the Pink Panther sells wall insulation, Bart Simpson hawks candy bars, and three nights after he lost the election, the Republican candidate for President of the United States got top billing from David Letterman as a comedy act. Politics is entertainment, athletes are movie stars, everyone is selling something.
But does that mean we have to buy? In Space Jam, an 87-minute novelty act that grew out of a TV commercial for sneakers, Jordan plays his giant persona, a high-Q-rated hoops superstar who is kidnapped from under the nose of his yapping, flapping publicist (heartily played by Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight) by Looney Tunes cartoon characters and dragooned into service on their basketball team. The Tunes, see, are facing a crucial game against the Monstars, a team from Moron Mountain, somewhere in a cartoon galaxy far, far away. And the ‘stars — grovelly pip-squeak subjects of a despotic, cigar-chomping bigwig, voiced by Danny DeVito — have bulked up by ”stealing” the talent of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, and Shawn Bradley. So it’s up to Jordan, bolstered by team captain Bugs Bunny, to whip the unpromising Technicolored menagerie into shape.
”Which of you maroons has ever played basketball before?” Bugs asks Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Tweety, et al. To which the WB guys in the accounting office are probably amending, ”Which of you maroons hasn’t bought the soundtrack and ancillary stuff to make this $90 million production pay off?” That’s us, the maroons. Enchanted by the brilliant special effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, spoiled by the genius of The Simpsons, nostalgic for the old-fashioned wise-guyness of Bugs, we turn to Space Jam and get … hustled: by faux subversiveness (Daffy kisses a WB logo on his own behind — ho ho!); by de rigueur pop-culture references (the Tunes work out to a Richard Simmons exercise tape); even by the pleasant basketball stars themselves, who, thanks to effective dramatic coaching in the selling of soft drinks, have become perfect humanoid action figures.
This mediocrity disguised as entertainment, this greed promoted as synergy — this, to paraphrase that seminal media study, Broadcast News, is what the devil looks like. It’s Tasmanian, and it’s coming to a multiplex near you. D+