Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Space Jam.”
The Movie: “Space Jam”
Starring: Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle
Director: Joe Pytka
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) In a desperate attempt to win a basketball match and earn their freedom, the Looney Tunes seek the aid of retired basketball champion, Michael Jordan.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38 percent
Froemming: Last week, we visited the world of WCW, full of cartoonish wrestlers and the buffoonery of David Arquette for Sports Month. This week, I decided to continue with the cartoonish with “Space Jam,” a movie I had never seen, but know a lot of people seem to love it through the rosy tint of nostalgia.
This film has three things in favor for me going in:
- 1996 was the last time I cared about the NBA, so I knew who the professional players were and Michael Jordan was the biggest athlete of my childhood.
- Looney Tunes.
- Newman from “Seinfeld” is in this.
Did I enjoy it? Well, the review will let you know. As I spit shine the floor here, Brown what are your fist thoughts on this 88-minute Nike commercial?
Brown: As a child of 10 when this movie came out, of course I enjoyed this movie back in the day. I was coming into my own as a sports fan. Cartoon Network was fresh on the scene and played plenty of Looney Tunes. Michael Jordan was actually a basketball player again after his well-meaning-but-ill-fated baseball run (or he was done serving his two-year suspension for gambling, if you’re into conspiracy theories).
Twenty-two years later, that bright-eyed child is now a surly adult who has heard the soundtrack too many times and can really see how terrible an actor Michael Jordan is.
What does this all mean? Folks, we’re here to do what we do best on the JOE-DOWN: Ruin your childhood.
Get us started, Froemming. I’m going to go fend off my family bulldog to find my North Carolina shorts.
Froemming: Well, this movie kicks off with a History Has Been Unkind To This Movie moment, when we hear R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” playing as young Michael Jordan, in the early 1970s, is playing basketball in the middle of the night.
And this is all I could think:
Brown: I may have put this on Facebook: Who is the biggest monster in this movie? The Monstars or R. Kelly?
Froemming: Oh, Kelly for sure. Isn’t he in trouble for having a sex cult these days?
Brown: I’ll take your word for it. He’s reached that territory where you could tell me anything and I’d believe R. Kelly did it.
Froemming: Someday we will review “Trapped In The Closet.”
Anyway, young Michael and his father talk about basketball and his dreams. And then we cut to the opening credits, which plays as a Michael Jordan Greatest Hits of his career.
Brown: I have two quick questions for you, Froemming? First, did you think for a second like I did that Carl Weathers was playing MJ’s dad? Or, at least the child of Carl Weathers and the dad from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Second question: How (REDACTED) is it that the credits have Bugs Bunny but no other Looney Tunes? Especially since, as we see in the movie, Bugs Bunny is kinda useless.
Froemming: Question one: I think you are racist for asking that.
Question two: Bugs Bunny is the face of the Loony Tunes, so I get it. But like you mentioned, he is (REDACTED) useless on the court.
So now we see Jordan retiring from the NBA and starting anew in I think the minors for the MLB. Say what you will, Jordan can laugh at himself for his failed baseball career. Man, that was a bad idea of his. He must have been taking Stupid Pills in the mid-90s.
Or maybe he was secretly suspended for a crippling gambling addiction and the league didn’t want its biggest star of all time to be the next Pete Rose!
THE GLOBALISTS ARE BEHIND THIS!
Brown: Or, he was honoring his murdered father, who loved baseball.
Brown: Though I will say, the gambling that Jordan takes part in during this movie is retroactively alarming. He makes bets on golf with Bill Murray and Larry Bird. Then at the movie’s climax, he raises the stakes of an already high-stakes basketball game by putting himself up as a potential slave.
It’s… kind of alarming.
Froemming: He was letting us know the true story via meta humor Brown. The sheeple never picked up on it.
So we see Jordan isn’t very good at baseball, even with the catcher of the opposing team telling him when to swing and when not to, because he is Michael (REDACTED) Jordan.
But he still sucks at the game.
And the owner of the team doesn’t care, because old No.
23 45 is putting butts in the seats. So he hires a mailman from Manhattan named Newman (no one knows if it is his first or last name) to take care of the star player.
I think Wayne Knight’s enthusiasm for Jordan is both acting and real, because frankly who wouldn’t be fanboying out on mid-90s Mike?
Brown: Even before Mike’s failed baseball exploits, we get a glimpse of our antagonist Mr. Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito), who runs a second-rate amusement park called Moron Mountain that’s in need of a new attraction. He decides this after watching a kid say the park is lame. I’d think the park is lame as well if I ALMOST DIED on a faulty ride like the alien kid.
If anything, this set-up made me real upset at NASA. There is a lit-up sign leading to a space amusement park, followed by Moron Mountain in what I assume is an asteroid. Moron Mountain spits out light pollution like it’s Los Angeles.
The Hubble telescope never picked up on this? Taxpayers spend billions to bring a man to the moon but we can’t see lights spewing out of an asteroid OR make my feet smell good? What are we doing, America?!
Froemming: Fun fact: In January 2017, I started referring to the U.S. as Moron Mountain.
Brown: As Swackhammer yells at his minions, his many TVs start showing various Looney Tunes cartoons. So, in order to modernize his park, Swackhammer wants to kidnap the ever-popular-in-1996 Looney Toon characters.
Froemming: Yeah, by 1996 the Looney Tunes were pretty much relics of another era. I mean, if he wanted a success, he should have kidnapped “The Simpsons.”
Brown: Which could have been done since Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, is in this movie.
Froemming: I caught that too! Brief cameo, but for nerds like us, it was a nice touch.
So these slug things fly to Earth and we discover that the center of our crazy blue ball is not molten lava, but where Warner Bros. hide our favorite cartoon characters!
Brown: I now believe that our fossil fuels are from all the Wily E. Coyotes that have plunged to their death in Roadrunner cartoons.
I got to fill up on gas to get to Willmar today. Wonder how many Wily E.’s I’ll need to put into my tank.
Froemming: You owe the Roadrunner a round of thanks for brutally killing those Coyotes so you can operate a vehicle.
So the slugs run into Bugs Bunny (voiced by Billy West of “Ren & Stimpy” and “Futurama”) who gets a gag in because these things are stupid.
But they are not that stupid and begin to round up the Tunes to be slaves at an amusement park!
But Bugs has an idea: Make up some rule that they get a chance to defend themselves and challenge these short things to a game of basketball!
Brown: The slugs accept because they have no concept of basketball. Once they do, the slugs know they’ve been duped. But, they have an ace in the hole once they find out that the world’s best players are in the NBA.
It begins by them cosplaying as Vincent Adultman from “Bojack Horseman” and getting lower bowl tickets to a New York Knicks/Phoenix Suns game. There, they see future NBA Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing and absorb their basketball ability using CGI that is, for my money, the worst we have seen on the JOE-DOWN.
Yes, the CGI is worse than the shark from “Escape From LA.”
But it doesn’t stop there. The slugs also absorb the abilities of the Charlotte Hornets’ Muggsy Bogues and Larry Johnson, as well as Shawn Bradley?
Folks, the only thing going for Shawn Bradley is that he was tall. He was never an All-Star.
During the Knicks game, I was secretly hoping the slugs would have taken the abilities of Charles Oakley so they’d get caught cheating in a casino.
Froemming: Well, they did absorb the ability to spit on a little girl from Barkley.
Brown: DId they also absorb Muggsy’s ability to chastise Larry David for looking at… him in the men’s room (NSFW)?
Froemming: With these All-Stars and Shawn Bradley (for some reason) now having lost their abilities to play and spit on children, they are at a loss in life. And our slugs now grow into giant (REDACTED) beasts called the Monstars!
Advantage is now clearly on their side. So, per usual, Bugs Bunny decides to commit a ton of felonies such as trespassing and kidnapping and crossing state lines with the person he kidnapped.
How does this go down? Why, at the place all middle-aged men are on a given afternoon: A golf course.
Brown, let’s make a blood oath that we will never be golfers. I can’t do the pants, early hours and the blistering sun while trying to knock a dumb ball into a hole for hours on end.
So Jordan is hitting the links with Bill Murray and Larry Bird. And because the talent is lost in the NBA, Murray thinks it is his time to shine in professional basketball.
I like to think Bill just wandered on set and they had to write him into the movie.
Brown: That’s how I imagine Murray gets all his roles nowadays.
Also, yes, I am all for the anti-golf oath. We don’t even need blood for it. I say we just park ourselves in the clubhouse and drink.
Look, I get Bill Murray is a buffoon. But no one is going to wear the umbrella hat that he sported in this golf scene. Later on, Minnesotans will take WAY too much pride in this movie because Murray wears a St. Paul Saints hat in the climax.
Because the Looney Tunes need to even the odds against the Monstars, Bugs uses a magnet to put Michael’s ball in the hole, thinking he got a hole-in-one, much like how Mr. Burns ALWAYS gets to the green in one shot. Nevermind there is nothing metallic in a golf ball.
And as he reaches for the ball, MJ is lassoed by Yosemite Sam and brought into the toon world in the center of the earth. In this magical world, Jordan is confused and always looking into the camera, which is downright distracting. He’s a worse Jim Halpert.
Froemming: I was shocked this film looked so bad with humans and cartoons sharing the screen. I mean, it worked great for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” a decade before, and now we get odd closeups of Jordan giving weird looks to cartoons that make “Birdemic” look like “Jurassic Park?” Something somewhere went terribly wrong.
Brown: Between the animation/real life actor problems and the CGI, this movie is so weird. The images of Wayne Knight being blown up like a balloon and MJ being smushed into a basketball by the Monstars will haunt my dreams until the day I die.
Froemming: Now Jordan is in Looney Tunes land, where they tell him about the slugs and slavery and amusement park run by animated Frank Reynolds. And since he is a multi-millionaire who has really zero obligations, he agrees to help the Tunes out. But he will need his North Carolina shorts, because he always wears those when playing ball. Superstition in sports is baffling and often unhygienic.
Brown: You’re not wrong.
We also get help from a new character to the Looney Tunes universe in Lola Bunny. Here’s a rundown of her character.
GOOD: She’s the second most competent basketball player for the Looney Tunes. Also, she hates being called “Doll.”
BAD: Oh, I don’t know… Warner Bros. sexualizing a female cartoon bunny? I firmly believe Lola Bunny started the Furry craze. Her Wikipedia also refers to her as “a well-regarded sex-symbol of animation,” so I’d like to think she also started DeviantArt.
Like, didn’t Warner Bros. already have Honey Bunny for the same purpose. Lola Bunny is the Poochie of Warner Bros.
Lola Bunny shows up, literally makes one shot AND LEAVES. Like, thanks for the practice I guess.
Brown: It’s better than showing up for the disgusting spit shine at the gym.
Froemming: If you ain’t spit shining when you’re cleaning, I don’t know what your doing.
*spits on floor* Time to mop!
Brown: Remind me to get floor cleaner on Amazon sent to your apartment.
Back to the movie, where Bugs and Daffy Duck perform the worst sneaking mission of all time because neither of them can speak lower than an 11. They look for MJ’s UNC shorts and other basketball gear, only to run afoul of Charles, the family’s bulldog that is treated in this movie like The Beast in “The Sandlot.” But, our cartoon heroes are saved by Michael’s three kids, who retrieve the shorts and vow to protect the Tunes’ secret basketball game.
I’ll say it: MJ’s kids are better actors than the old man.
Now that Jordan has superstition on his side, let’s play some basketball!
Froemming: Well, the first half of the game is pretty bad. The Tunes obviously are not prepared to take on the talents of real NBA players and Jordan is doing all the heavy lifting.
My favorite part is when the team is being announced, nobody applauds for Daffy.
Look, I haven’t followed basketball in some time, but I think bombs, punching, firearms and painting a red flag on an opponent’s butt to rile up a bull seems like things that would be frowned upon in the NBA. But then again, there was that time with Ron Artest…
Brown: Marvin the Martian is the worst referee in the history of organized basketball. Even worse than Tim Donaghy, who was sentenced for 15 months in prison after betting on games he officiated. Michael Jordan was put in a sleeper hold for crying out loud!
A couple other things about the first half. First, Bugs destroyed a portion of the court during pre-game intros since he, you know, jumped out of the floorboards. And yet, nothing happens. Yeah, I know. Cartoons.
Second, and this one bugged me even as a child: How are the slug minions still able to cater to Mr. Swackhammer as little slugs but are also playing basketball? The only difference is the slugs are now a gray hue.
I will not accept the cartoon excuse for that.
Froemming: I just thought they were different slugs.
Anyway, the Tunes are being slammed and we get to the halfway mark of the game. In the locker room, the team is down and Porky Pig just wants to forfeit, because he is a coward. But Bugs had a trick up his sleeve: Drink water labeled “Secret Stuff” that gets him jacked.
Add the Looney Tunes to the steroid abuser list. They are in good company with Jose Canseco and the entire 1990s MLB roster.
Brown: I hope this isn’t a case of the Mandela Effect, but I swear there was a powdery candy in the ‘90s sold as “Michael’s Secret Stuff.” It was kind of like Pixie Sticks and it made your water taste like crappy Kool-Aid.
Froemming: That was street ecstasy your were drinking, pal.
Now the Tunes are jacked up like Hulk Hogan, minus the racism, and are coming back from behind with their trickery and whatnot on the court.
Brown: Right?! The first half, they played it straight. Then the second half, the Tunes remembered, “Hey, we’re cartoons! Reality doesn’t apply to us. Let’s Konami Code this game and cheat like crazy!”
Figuring out that the Monstars took the abilities of his former peers, Jordan’s crippling gambling addiction takes hold and he increases the stakes. If the Tunes win, the slugs give the powers back. If they lose, he’ll be a slave at Moron Mountain.
Basketball is a fun game, sir. Your friend’s lives are on the line. Do you really need to add to the stakes when you’re down, what, 15 points in the fourth quarter? I mean, you have Tweety Bird in an iron lung! Things are already dire enough!
Froemming: Oh, never fear my friend. Because when in need of a fifth player, Bill Murray shows up out of the blue to play!
Froemming: Somehow Murray hams it up more in this movie than the Looney Tunes. That, I like that. This was before Wes Anderson made him an indie darling with more dry humor.
Brown: I did snicker when Swackhammer confused Murray with Dan Aykroyd being on the Toon Squad.
Down to the final moments of the game, the Toon Squad have their game plan in motion: Get the ball to Michael.
… Look, sometimes the most obvious plan is the right one. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
With seconds to go, Jordan leaps into the air at half-court, using one of the Monstars as a ramp of sorts. Then, the other Monstars gang tackle MJ and NO FOUL IS CALLED!
What’s a man to do? Why, he defies all logic by turning into Stretch Armstrong and extending his arm for a last-second slam dunk to win the game for the Toon Squad!
The celebration is on. Daffy and Foghorn Leghorn are celebrating. Bugs and Lola are making out. Yosemite Sam is firing revolvers wildly in a sold-out arena. It’s pandemonium!
Froemming: And the Monstars realize they do not need to work for Mr. Swackhammer, so they shove him in a rocket and murder him in cold blood!
So it is time to give the talents back to our NBA players, who can’t even dribble a ball for some reason. Jordan shows up, they touch the glowing ball like Donald Trump did in Saudi Arabia and their talents return.
And so does Jordan. Sporting the number 45, Jordan’s retirement/suspension is now over and sanity returns to the NBA!
Brown: I enjoy the ironic audacity of Charles Barkley criticizing Michael Jordan’s baseball swing when THIS is Chuck’s golf swing.
Froemming: Let’s spit shine our way to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yeah, it’s entertaining enough. I enjoyed it for what it was.
Brown: It’s a harmless kid’s movie. Go for it.