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Full-Court Depression

Bugs and Michael
Phil Bray

This Little Wabbit Went to the Marketplace: Bugs and Michael must pay the price for corporate loyalty in "Space Jam."

'Space Jam' strips the anarchic spirit of Bugs and Daffy

By Richard von Busack

One of the inside jokes in the 1945 Road to Utopia has Bob Hope sighting the Paramount mountain and claiming that there's gold in them thar hills. The shot in Space Jam of Daffy DuckTM bending over and kissing his own ass, which is stamped with a Warner Bros.TM logo, isn't quite the same kind of in-joke; it's a way of explaining to us that these characters are all copyrighted from here to eternity--and then, if we didn't get the picture, DaffyTM reminds us, with the taste of tail feathers still in his mouth, that he's a trademarked character as well.

Space Jam's story features aliens from outer space who want to kidnap the Warner Bros. characters and enslave them as attractions at Moron Mountain, an interplanetary theme park. In other words, Space Jam may be the first full-length cartoon made on the subject of a hostile corporate takeover. Under the direction of Bugs BunnyTM, the denizens of the land of the Looney TunesTM challenge the invaders to a basketball game for their freedom. Bugs goes to our dimension to enlist the aid of Michael JordanTM, who shares the screen with the animated rabbit.

In live-action sequences that serve as filler, we see a rough outline of incidents from Jordan's life--an inspirational bonding with his dad under a starry night sky, his retirement from the NBA and his stretch as an unpromising minor-league baseball player--before he gets pulled down the rabbit hole. As an actor, Jordan possesses just about enough charisma for a one-minute commercial; this advertisement for Michael Jordan--as a suburban family man bemused by everyone stroking him all the time--lasts 90 minutes. The commercial is carried out with the same subtlety as any of the others made by director Joe Pytka: the "Bo Knows" campaign for Nike, the Bartles & Jaymes "Thank you for your support" series. Pytka is an expert at putting a compassionate face on cutthroat businesses, and here he makes some fiercely competitive NBA stars like Charles Barkley and Muggsey Bogues depressingly cuddly. Worse yet is the live-action comedy relief. The repulsive Wayne Knight, who previously stunk up Jurassic Park with his fat-boy gags, bids hard to make Space Jam smell like Pepe Le Pew. You'll adore the scene where Knight is inflated like a balloon and then flies around the arena propelled by farts.

Bugs, Daffy and company are crowded by space monsters who are like the tedious Animaniacs grown large. Pytka and his producers try to squeeze in every Warner Bros. cartoon character ever made, plus one new creation: a female character, Lola Bunny, who is a one-dimensional coquette ("Don't call me babe" is nearly her only line). Virtually the only encouraging moment finds Bugs and Daffy burglarizing Jordan's house. The scene isn't funny, but watching the duo sidle down a hallway--Bugs calm and Daffy a quivering bundle of nerves--you can see that these two beloved character are at least set up for a gag. The pleasure of anticipation almost makes up for the fact that there's no payoff.

Space Jam induces that familiar rage of watching priceless comedians squandered. This movie teams Bill Murray and Daffy Duck and doesn't give them a joke to work with. That's unforgivable enough, but you get even more angry watching the film's celebration of how playthings of deathless comedic minds like Chuck Jones and Tex Avery have become emblems of a communications company. How can you care if aliens are going to enslave them, when they're enslaved already? Watching these anarchic spirits serving their time as logobearers, you can't help but feel colonized yourself. Watching Space Jam, you know what a calf feels like at branding time.

Space Jam (PG; 90 min.), directed by Joe Pytka, written by Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod and starring Michael Jordan.

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From the November 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro

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