Don Cheadle’s evil Al-G Rhythm is an entertaining villain who outshines the Looney Tunes characters around him in Space Jam: A New Legacy.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Space Jam: A New Legacy, now in theaters and on HBO Max.
Don Cheadle is an unquestionably versatile actor. His body of work includes an early stint on The Golden Girls spinoff The Golden Palace, his role as James Rhodes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and multiple films with Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh. Hot off his acclaimed turn in Soderbergh’s crime-caper No Sudden Move and unexpected Emmy nod for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Cheadle plays the evil computer A.I. Al-G Rhythm in Space Jam: A New Legacy.
The Space Jam sequel’s Big Bad is as ridiculous as his name. His master plan to gain the fame and recognition he feels he’s owed? Create a digital scan of NBA superstar LeBron James using his new Warner 3000 tech and plug him into various WarnerMedia projects, allowing James to battle Batman as Mr. Freeze or play Quidditch in the Wizarding World. Al-G’s scheme is as confusing as it sounds and, ironically, is basically the same as A New Legacy‘s plot.
Thankfully, Cheadle not only understood the assignment; he’s the best part of A New Legacy. Al-G is sinister and manipulative, but he’s also entertaining and charismatic. He’s like an old-school comic book rogue in the way he switches from schmoozing James to plotting his demise when the multiple MVP Award-winner turns down his offer. Cheadle’s overacting is pitch-perfect for the Space Jam universe and offsets James’ performance, which amounts to him looking confused or concerned for most of the movie. While it’s no shock an esteemed actor would overshadow a professional athlete onscreen, Cheadle’s Al-G steals pretty much every scene.
It’s not only James who comes off looking worse next to Al-G. The Looney Tunes characters are as much the stars of the Space Jam movies as James and his fellow professional basketball players, yet A New Legacy doesn’t give them a lot to do. There’s too much happening in the film for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney crew to engage in more than a few scattered moments of classic slapstick antics. Instead, they’re stuck recycling pop culture jokes decades past their expiration date — see Granny recreating Trinity’s bullet-time kick from The Matrix — or using tired Internet phrases like “Well that happened.” (The less said about Porky Pig’s rap battle, the better.)
Al-G is as essential to A New Legacy‘s emotional core as he is the story. At the heart of the movie is James’ relationship with his son Dom, who’s more interested in designing video games than following in his father’s footsteps. In a plot point that, as several critics have noted, is right out of Steven Spielberg’s Hook, Al-G becomes a bad father figure to Dom by supporting his ambitions and encouraging him to use his coding skills to create a team of super-powered athletes, the Goon Squad, to compete against James and the Looney Tunes in the film’s climactic basketball game. Thanks to Cheadle, it’s easy to accept Al-G would be able to win Dom over as quickly as he does.
None of this is to say Space Jam: A New Legacy features Cheadle’s best performance in recent memory; for that, you’re better off watching No Sudden Move when you log into HBO Max. Even so, his antagonist Al-G has all the energy and silly charm one could reasonably expect in a movie as blatantly corporate-minded as a Space Jam sequel.
Starring LeBron James and every character Warner Bros. can throw at you, Space Jam: A New Legacy is playing in theaters and on HBO Max.
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