LeBron James achieves the rarest of triple-doubles in "Space Jam: A New Legacy": double figures in points, rebounds and nuggets of paternal wisdom.
"Is King James a bad dad?" is the somewhat surprising theme of the live-action/animation combo, which finds the NBA superstar trying to force son Dom (Cedric Joe) to be serious about basketball when what Dom really cares about is creating role-playing video games. Those competing interests blend when an evil mastermind (Don Cheadle) sucks both Jameses into a video game world where they are joined by Looney Tunes characters, including Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, and pro basketball players, including Diana Taurasi and Klay Thompson, as they compete in a pimped-out, absurdly high-scoring basketball game.
The learning-to-be-a-better-parent theme means "A New Legacy" requires more acting from James than the original "Space Jam" did from Michael Jordan. And he does just fine. He's a little too low-key when he's voicing animated LeBron (he should take lessons from Zendaya, whose energy is spot-on as the voice of Lola Bunny). But James is a good sport, given that "Legacy" contains several jabs at his team-hopping career, and scenes with his "family" have warmth and humor.
It's a good thing, too, because the movie often feels like "Intellectual Property: A New Exploitation." In the computer world, LeBron and Dom interact with an exhausting array of Warner Bros. entities, including "Harry Potter" (LeBron is a Hufflepuff), "Casablanca," the Justice League superheroes and some you might be surprised to learn WB now owns, including MGM-made "The Wizard of Oz."
For a while, it's amusing to play spot-the-references (There's a nun from "Sister Act"! There's Pennywise from "It"! There's a random Bobby Knight joke!) but that grows thin, as does Cheadle's charisma-free performance. It's a light movie and everyone knows how it's going to end. "A New Legacy" could use the distraction of a villain as hiss-worthy as, say, Emma Thompson in "Cruella" or virtually everyone in James Bond movies. Although he's a fine actor, Cheadle does not have the personality or gift for comedy.
Luckily, the rest of the movie has both. There's an excellent Michael Jordan joke. It was smart to include female as well as male pros on the all-star team LeBron battles. The message that kids should be encouraged to pursue their own passions is on point. And a final sequence proves the Looney Tunes are surprisingly credible rappers.
"Space Jam" doesn't break new ground — for that, we'd need "Sylvia Fowles: A New Legacy" — but there's something to be said for a movie that delivers exactly what it promises.
And one that proves LeBron James wrong when he muses, "Athletes acting? That never goes well."
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
Space Jam: A New Legacy
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG, mild cartoon language.
Where: Wide release; HBO Max.