The soundtrack of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is completely forgettable
What crazy and messy expectations could a critic, parent or child even muster for a Space jam after? The original movie was a kids’ basketball game starring Michael Jordan and his sporting roster of chaotic and outdated 1930s cartoon characters. (That’s right, Bugs Bunny is older than Joe Biden.) Looney Tunes – sorry, the Tune Squad – and Bill Murray drew Jordan out of his weird phase of baseball and into a high-stakes, hard-contact showdown with an intergalactic threat known as the Monsters. Given the original film’s genesis as a television commercial series and its foreshadowing of the ‘cinematic universe’ model for popular entertainment, I now tend to consider Space jam as a dismal prophecy about art and commerce in the 21st century. But it was also an exquisite blend of live action, cartoon animation, and CGI in a larger-than-life sports movie with a killer soundtrack.
A quarter of a century later, I can at least stick to the original Space jam soundtrack. It wasn’t just a good album that included some of the biggest hits of the decade (“I Believe I Can Fly”, “Fly Like an Eagle”), it was also a smart stylistic bet. If you were a little too old and a little too cool to seriously support the Tune Squad, you could at least put the tape on and listen to Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J pretending to be the Monstars for a band cut (“Hit Em High “), Monica playing the emotional stakes of a basketball Armageddon straight with a ballad (” For You I Will “), and Chris Rock and Barry White doing a long, sultry on hoop dreams. the original Space jam the soundtrack was fucking Interior visions, OKAY? But the soundtrack was incredibly essential and enduring for what it was. With time, Space Jam: Music from and inspired by the movie and even the old one Space jam survived the film itself, preserving the business styles and sensibilities of the late 1990s.
What does this latest soundtrack do for the sequel and the 2020s? No favors. Space Jam: a new legacy, starring LeBron James, is a cheesy and cluttered movie. It is a long-term and star-studded “event”, reduced to an echo in the proverbial Where’s Waldo? Illustration of popular culture, crowded with IPs and crossovers. The Looney Tunes could barely make a movie in 1996 and they sure can’t make a movie in 2021, but now Warner Bros. recruits the corporate “family” at large in scenes no less heartbreaking for their blandness. They really brought Agent Smith and the Mask here next to the Algorithmic Disappearance Tribunal for Mankind. This is a musical review, so I won’t go into the multiple senses in which James could be said to “play himself” in. Space Jam: a new legacy; neither will I criticize Don Cheadle’s endearing and almost redemptive performance as villain, Al-G Rhythm; neither will I beg the Wachowskis to do anything, anything, to stop the perpetual hijacking of The matrix. I will just note the total indignity in this sequel being always nicer than its soundtrack. What’s that soundtrack ?! It’s the real algorithmic villain here, the sensitivity of the uncredited and therefore inexplicable playlist that made me listen to Lil Uzi Vert’s rap on “Pump Up the Jam”.
Ideally, the soundtrack could have brought a little verve to this self-satisfied meta-commentary on the huge back-catalog of a multimedia monopoly. The soundtrack was an opportunity to once again bypass the demographic limits of the film and to draw respectable jams. But here’s John Legend singing yet another Target commercial thanks to the sheer strength of his bankability (“Crowd Go Crazy”). Here is Joyner Lucas moaning about self-esteem (“Shoot My Shot”). Chance the rapper is Space jam incarnate, a millennial rapper born out of a McDonald’s ball pool, and even he can’t hide the gimmick and cringe in those songwriting prompts (“See Me Fly”). Lil Wayne survives a collaboration with 24kGoldn due to Weezy’s characteristic detachment who always implicitly disavows his most dismal collaborations (“Control the World”). There is only one honorable performance on this soundtrack: Big Freedia masquerading as the various Looney Tunes and Simply Going Bankrupt (“Goin ‘Looney”). But even here, I’m afraid I’m giving Freedia too much credit, and therefore the soundtrack; we should not risk encouraging such behavior on the part of executive producers on these things. They have done enough.
The thing is, I can imagine LeBron James listening to each of these songs and giving each track one of those weird nods of approval that he gives just about anything on Instagram Live. I can see how it all happened and how bad taste won over the day because it’s always the easiest outcome, and I can write the autopsy for it. Space jam sequel and its star rental soundtrack with a heavy head but reasonable standards. But I regret the opportunity lost here. The rest was always going to be cowardly and stupid. But perhaps the musicians once again seized the opportunity to help make this children’s film bigger than it should be. Still, the movie and the soundtrack both seem small, and the latter seems almost determined to be forgotten by everyone except the algorithm as soon as possible. So let’s throw these songs on the sidelines of each contributor’s discography, a tangent to an afterthought in Don Cheadle’s filmography.