There's a generation of basketball fans for whom Michael Jordan can do no wrong. Listen to these fans, and you'd think Jordan never missed a shot, never lost a playoff series and never made a bad decision. These fans will also tell you how great of a movie "Space Jam" is. They're delusional -- not as delusional as anyone who tells you Kobe is better than MJ, but still delusional.
The Nerdlucks steal the talent from five NBA players, then use it to become huge basketball-dominating forces known as the Monstars. The Tunes, realizing they need help, kidnap Michael Jordan from the golf course, where he's playing a round with Bill Murray and Larry Bird, while being shadowed by Stan (Wayne Knight), his team-assigned personal assistant.
Jordan is reluctant at first, but after being challenged by the Monstars and seeing them hurt Tweety Bird, he agrees to help. He sends Bugs and Daffy to get his basketball gear. All suited up, Jordan leads a practice, where we learn none of the Tunes have ever played before. That is, except for newcomer Lola Bunny, who has skills -- just don't call her "doll" (seriously, they go to that well more than once in this relatively brief movie).
Stan, who's been digging up the golf course trying to find Michael, spotted, Bugs and Daffy returning to Tune Land and followed them, and wants to get Michael back to the baseball team. But he explains he has to help the Looney Tunes win first, and Stan wants to help.
Gametime arrives, and the Monstars dominate the first half, despite committing more fouls than the entire '88-89 Pistons roster. At halftime, Stan sneaks into the Monstars locker room and learns they stole the NBA players talent. Meanwhile, Bugs motivates the team by tricking them into thinking regular tap water is Michael's "special stuff". The Tunes come out ready to play in the second half, and tighten up the score, much to the consternation of Swackhammer (which, again, sounds more like a low-budget porn than a Looney Tunes villain). The evil alien is pissed that the Monstars didn't steal Michael's talent, but they insist he's a baseball player. MJ is fed up with Swackhammer, and wants to raise the stakes of the bet (OF COURSE he does...): if the Tunes win, the Monstars have to give the NBA players their talent back. If they lose, MJ goes with them to Moron Mountain.
The Monstars up their physicality to Laimbeerian levels, forcing Stan into the game. They then pancake him -- literally -- but his shot goes in, pulling the Tunes within one. Upon seeing Stan flattened and re-inflated, MJ's confused, but the Tunes explain anyone can do that in Tune Land. Michael is legitimately pissed that they waited until 10 seconds left in the game to tell him that. The Tunes are down to 4 players, but Bill Murray shows up out of nowhere and joins the team. They get a steal and get the ball to MJ, who leaps from halfcourt and stretches his arm for the game-winning basket. Yay!
The Monstars rise up against their former boss, sending him to the moon. MJ gets them to give the players' talents back, and the once-again Nerdlucks decide to stay in Tune Land, where they've literally never appeared in another Looney Tunes property. Michael gets back to the real world just in time to play his baseball game, arriving on a spaceship (which no one ever brings up again). He then gives the talents back to Barkley, Ewing, Johnson and Bogues, but apparently swaps Bradley's "talent" with the ability to get posterized. Then, because they questioned whether he could still play, he comes back to the NBA. The end.
To put this as simply as possible, anyone who tells you "Space Jam" is a good movie is a Jordan fan who hasn't seen it since 1996, and possibly has never seen it. Michael Jordan actually struggles to play a believable Michael Jordan (though he does nail the gambling problem and has a great moment in the locker room where it looks like he's ready to punch Porky Pig). But Jordan isn't really the problem with the movie, the Looney Tunes are.
While Jordan is the marketing vehicle for the movie, if you look at the premise and execution, it's a Looney Tunes movie at heart. It's just not a good one. It doesn't capture any of the style or humor that make the classic Looney Tunes cartoons such a joy to watch. There are plenty of callbacks to classic bits, but that's all they are. The entire movie, both from the Tunes side and the Jordan side, relies on the viewer having a sense of nostalgia for both of the primary subjects, and doesn't advance them in any meaningful way.
For a comedy, the laugh-out-loud moments are incredibly sparse, and I definitely found myself laughing more at things that were only funny because of context than because of the way they were written. The funniest moment in the movie may be everything Vlade Divac says when the NBA players are refusing to play after Barkley and co. have their talents stolen.
Also, by modern standards, the interaction between live-action and animation is pretty bad. I'm sure it seemed OK back in 1996, but now it just looks very disjointed.
I will say this in defense of the movie: the soundtrack is awesome. I've had it on CD since it came out, and it's a solid mix of R&B, dance and hip-hop that's worth a listen. The only negative is that the soundtrack's best song, "Hit 'Em High", isn't featured in the movie. So watch the video on YouTube instead.
The vast majority of basketball in this movie is either intentionally bad (post-talent-stealing) or animated, so it's really hard to grade it. Michael Jordan does dunk a lot, which nearly salvages the movie.
Delusional MJ fans will tell you this is Jordan playing with the Bulls. Some may at least couch it by saying it's Jordan with the Bulls when he was wearing #45 (which we get a glimpse of at the end of the movie). More realistic fans will tell you it's Jordan playing with the Wizards. But, honestly, it's not even that good. It's Jordan drafting Kwame Brown.
BETTER OR WORSE THAN A LOCKOUT?
Worse, and I'll tell you why. If the lockout lingers, some NBA player (LeBron, I'm looking in your direction) is going to get the idea to make a Space Jam-esque movie during the break, both to fill the downtime and help pay the bills. The world didn't need the first "Space Jam", and it certainly doesn't need another one.