'Space Jam' Entertains But Falls Short of Slam-Dunk

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Michael Jordan can run, jump, dribble, dunk, and come very close to flying when he wants to.

But can he act? The answer turns out to be: sort of.

He's better at running, jumping, dribbling, dunking, and flying. But his Hollywood debut in "Space Jam" shows that he can play a part as well as the next basketball star - as long as the character is himself, the subject is sports, and the co-star is one of the most magnetic personalities ever to grip the screen: Bugs Bunny, still a carrot-munching celebrity after all these years.

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The story begins in two different places. One is Earth, where Jordan holds a press conference to announce that he's retiring from basketball and switching to a baseball career. The other is outer space, where an orbiting theme park called Moron Mountain is desperate to find new attractions.

Swackhammer, the park's evil entrepreneur, hears about Hollywood cartoons and decides the Looney Tunes gang would put his enterprise back on the interstellar map. He kidnaps the whole cast, from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to Sylvester the Cat and Tweetie the Canary, making them captives in his cosmic amusement center. Hoping to save the day, Bugs hatches the idea of challenging the spacepersons to a winner-take-all basketball match, which the aliens will surely lose since they're all short and klutzy.

True, the aliens have an ace up their sleeve: the ability to steal talent (and height) from Earth's top basketball players.

But the Looney Tunes troupe also has a secret weapon: a baseball player named Michael Jordan, who might be tempted back to the hoop if a good cause were at stake. What cause could be better than making the galaxy safe for cartoon characters?

"Space Jam" obviously hopes to duplicate the popularity of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which burned up the box office in 1988 by blending high-tech animation and traditional live action into a single seamless picture. This isn't a sure-fire formula - the dark comedy "Cool World" was a flop four years ago - but when successful it can attract cartoon-loving kids and movie fans of all ages.

Add a megastar like Jordan, and the possibilities are dazzling - more dazzling than the film itself, which has plenty of energy but doesn't take much trouble in the making-sense department.

There are some hearty laughs, to be sure. Basketball buffs and comedy-lovers will chuckle at the sight of NBA stars reduced to silly stumblebums when the aliens purloin their talent.

Anyone who ever hummed a Looney Tune will enjoy the antics of the animated cast. And the versatile Danny DeVito is just right as Swackhammer's vociferous voice.

Still, much of the thrill-a-minute story is more frantic than really clever, and much-loved comedians like Bill Murray and Wayne Knight don't get much chance to shine amid the gonzo goings-on. Even sports-lovers may be disappointed by the small amount of genuine athletic action that's been squeezed into the picture.

But hey, it's only a movie. Elmer Fudd fans will have a blast, and it's been too long since Wile E. Coyote landed a decent role. Would an evening at Moron Mountain be any better?

Th-th-th-th-th-th-that's all, folks!

*'Space Jam' has a PG rating. It contains some vulgar expressions and several scenes of comic violence.

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