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Jordan vs. 'Space' Invaders

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 15, 1996

"Space Jam" confirms a suspicion of mine that has been growing for years: Michael Jordan is a cartoon. Always was. How else do you explain the pro basketballer’s hang-in-the-air slam dunks, or his sinewy changes of body direction in mid-flight? Only cel drawings can do that. It should come as no surprise that in this combination of live action and animation Jordan blends perfectly with those other cartoon creations: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the rest of the Looney Tuners.

It seems a group of pint-size aliens known as the Nerdlucks has been sent by nasty boss Swackhammer (voice of Danny DeVito) to capture Bugs and the rest of the cartoon gang. The extraterrestrials’ mission is to transport the cartoon characters and their bright talents to Moron Mountain, the failing amusement park on the Nerd-lucks’ planet. (By the way, any inference here to Warner Bros. rival Walt Disney should be considered coincidental.)

Bugs offers the Nerdlucks a sporting wager: a basketball game to decide their respective fates. If the Looney Tunes win, they get to stay on planet Earth. If not, well, it’s time to perform for the evil empire.

But the Nerdlucks pull a fast one by visiting actual pro basketball stadiums and literally sucking the talent out of players Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsey Bogues, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley. Now transformed into oversized, trash-talking athletes called the Monstars, the aliens are a force to contend with. Bugs and his team of toons appeal to Jordan, who escaped with his talent intact because of his temporary absence from basketball (a Jordan in-joke there). Naturally, His Mikeness agrees to put things right.

Jordan has immense likability, and his extraordinary talents need no further adulation. The best visual moment in the movie is not an animated one; it’s the sight of Jordan doing what he does best, as Seal’s performance of "Fly Like an Eagle" soars over the soundtrack. There are enough little gags peppered throughout for younger audiences to enjoy. And Wayne Knight (Newman in "Seinfeld") and Bill Murray provide moderately funny diversions for the baby boomer parents in the audience.

The animation, a combination of two-‚and three-dimensional techniques, is entertaining, and those familiar Warner Bros. personalities are as appealing as ever. There’s a new toon on the block, too, a slinky hoop-shooter called Lola Bunny, who hates anyone calling her "Doll," and makes Bugs’s eyes perform romantic somersaults.

But "Space Jam," produced by Ivan ("Ghostbusters") Reitman and directed by Joe Pytka, doesn’t have the unforgettable pizazz of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which used human-toon interaction to more imaginative advantage. In fact, it feels like an extended Jordan love-in. Obviously, this was just meant to be a fun experience. But the movie fulfills those duties on the most mundane level. You have to treat "Space Jam" like that well-known fast-food Jordan loves to promote: It doesn’t matter how the movie is prepared, only that it’s served and ready to go.

SPACE JAM (PG) — Contains nothing offensive.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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