Bill Murray has been at the forefront of many a great comedy. One of his movies, where he was more a sidekick than anything, is now climbing the streaming charts, sitting at #7 on HBO Max.
Space Jam is the hybrid live-action/animated sports comedy starring basketball legend Michael Jordan as himself. The story takes place during the time Jordan had retired from basketball in 1993 and his eventual return in 1995.
The film begins with a young Michael Jordan telling his father that he wants to go to the University of North Carolina so he could play in the NBA. We then get a montage of Jordan’s career, beginning with his basketball days at North Carolina, his championship days with the Chicago Bulls, up to his retirement in 1993 so he could play baseball.
Meanwhile, in outer space, the Moron Mountain amusement park is in trouble. Attendance is dwindling, which makes its owner, Mr. Swackhammer (voice by Danny DeVito) very unhappy. But Swackhammer has a plan to bring his park back from the brink.
Swackhammer sends his minions, the Nerdlucks, to Earth so they can kidnap the Looney Tunes and bring them to his amusement park in order to create new attractions. But when the Nerdlucks arrive, the Looney Tunes led by Bugs Bunny, look at them and their small stature and then challenge them to a basketball game. If the Looney Tunes win, they stay on Earth.
The Nerdlucks, though small, are not stupid. They quickly realize that basketball’s greatest talents are in the NBA, so they go to various arenas across the U.S., stealing the talent from some of the greatest basketball players. This helps the Nerdlucks transform into the most formidable Monstars.
Bugs and company are now way out of their league, prompting Bugs to look for someone who can help them.
Michael Jordan is on the golf course with his buddies Larry Bird (NBA legend) and Bill Murray, along with Jordan’s personal assistant Stan (Wayne Knight). Jordan is not for the real world long, as Bugs lassos Jordan, taking him down to the Looney Tunes world. Jordan is reluctant to help as Bugs explains their trouble, but then Jordan meets the Monstars. Jordan then decides to help, creating the Looney Tunes team called the Tune Squad.
Jordan doesn’t have any of his basketball gear with him, so he sends Bugs and Daffy to the real world so they can bring his gear back. While up top, Bugs and Daffy have a run-in with Michael’s dogs, kids, and Stan, who eventually follows the pair back to the Looney Tune world.
When the Monstars and Tune Squad finally face off, it is a slaughter from the jump. The Monstars are bigger, more skilled, and have no issues using cartoon violence to take out any member of the Tune Squad.
Though Jordan’s skills are unmatched, he alone can’t handle the overgrown Monstars. The first half is a debacle but when Stan overhears just how the Monstars obtained their talent, he relays it to Jordan, who in turn rallies the Tune Squad.
The second half is much different, as expected, so when Bill Murray shows up in Looney Tune world to provide more levity (which he does quite well), he is also there to help his buddy, Michael Jordan.
Space Jam was the first feature film to come from Warner Bros. Feature Animation and it sure paid off. Joe Pytka sat in the director’s chair and was given an $80 million budget to have audiences cheer for Jordan and his Tune Squad face off against the Monstars. Pytka, along with a quartet of writers, saw their hit movie bring back $250 million at the box office.
The film wasn’t an overwhelming critical hit, only receiving a 43% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but fans of all ages flocked to see the film led by what some consider the greatest basketball player to play the game. Having Bill Murray in his corner did hurt.
Along with Murray, Knight, and DeVito, Space Jam brought along Theresa Randle for the live-action work as well as then-basketball stars Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues to play the Monstars.
Bill Murray’s role in Space Jam came at a time before Murray decided to take an eclectic turn in his film career. Known as a comedic actor, Murray had racked up big hits such as Caddyshack, Stripes, Tootsie, Little Shop of Horrors, Ghostbusters, Scrooged, What About Bob?, Groundhog Day, and Kingpin before he made his presence felt in Space Jam.
After Space Jam, Murray starred in The Man Who Knew Too Little and then his choices of roles would begin to change. The “in your face” comedy was replaced with more introspective movies, some that had nice touches of humor, but nothing that could compare with his earlier comedic material.
Bill Murray began his working relationship with noted director/writer Wes Anderson in 1998s Rushmore. Anderson’s comedy is a “cup-of-tea” kind of comedy. It’s either yours or it isn’t. Since their first film, Murray has been in each and every Anderson (nine out of ten) film in one way or another, either as a lead or in a cameo.
Up next for Bill Murray is, in fact, another Wes Anderson film, The French Dispatch. After that, Murray looks to return to his ghostbusting ways by reprising his role as Dr. Peter Venkman in the highly anticipated Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Until then, you can check out some classic Bill Murray comedy in Space Jam on HBO Max. The hope here, by Warner Bros. and HBO Max, is that the original will generate some interest for the new Space Jam: A New Legacy film led by LeBron James.