Like Mike

“Like Mike,” the latest fantasy film, stars rapper Lil’ Bow Wow as a young orphan who finds a pair of sneakers (supposedly once owned by Michael Jordan), puts them on, and becomes an instant NBA flavor of the month.

Most childhood fantasy movies deal with baseball (“Little Big League,” “Rookie of the Year”) or baseball and orphans (“Angels in the Outfield”). Basketball is a nice change of pace, but “Like Mike” isn’t. I admit that I’m a sucker for films like this, but anyone over the age of ten would have to be a sucker to pay for “Like Mike,” which runs every cliche in book up and down the court before fouling out.

I like when rappers make the leap to film (it keeps them out of the studio), and while Lil’ Bow Wow has the charm and presence to carry a film, he doesn’t get the support he needs from the writers and director John Schultz, who seems to be on cruise control. The film lacks the charm and attitude of its star, and that’s a shame.

The story is familiar but functional, yet writers Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet never make it their own. This is a cut-and-paste effort that feels like random moments than a cohesive whole. Most kids won’t mind, but adults will pass the time looking at their watch, wondering how many times the writers are going to drive the same point home. Elliott and Moffet don’t just beat the dead horse, they drag it around town, pretending it’s a show pony.

Watching “Like Mike” reminded me of that great Miss Hannigan line from “Annie”: Why any kid would want to be an orphan is beyond me. Why anyone past puberty would want to sit through “Like Mike” escapes me. The coming attraction trailer is actually better and more entertaining than the film. You know a film is in trouble when you can sum it up in two minutes (not just sum it up, but tell the entire story).

When he’s not hanging out with his fellow orphans at the Chesterfield Group Home Orphanage, Calvin Cambridge (Bow Wow) dreams of being adopted by a loving family and playing professional basketball. As an older orphan, Calvin doesn’t see much hope of being adopted, but when he comes across a pair of ratty old sneakers (with the initials M. J. inside), his future in basketball is immediately realized.

While attending a Los Angeles Knights basketball game, Calvin’s seat number is picked as part of a promotion to play one-on-one with Knight’s star Tracey Reynolds (Chestnut). Calvin is stoked, but Tracey is embarrassed by the whole affair. His embarrassment turns to humiliation when Calvin is magically transformed into an all-star, beating Tracey at his own game. In true childhood wish fulfillment form, Calvin is immediately signed to play for the Knights and is partnered with Tracey.

Already on a slippery slope, “Like Mike” immediately goes downhill from there, dredging up every “Odd Couple” stereotype in the book. While pleasing on an extremely superficial level, the chemistry between Bow Wow and Chestnut is so blatantly manufactured that it becomes an anchor around their necks, dragging them down into an abyss of meaningless emotions.

Fantasy only works if the characters are embedded in reality. If we believe in the character, we have no problem buying into their fantasy. Since none of the roles are fully realized (they’re more caricature than character), nothing they say or do really matters. The life lessons in “Like Mike” are painfully obvious. “South Park” is frequently more clever in delivering their “moral of the story.”

Bow Wow could have a career (short but sweet) in front of the camera, and while “Like Mike” won’t hurt that career, it does nothing to promote it. He’s the best thing about the film, and while that’s a compliment, it’s a backhanded one. That’s like a saying a 33mm bullet would doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as a 45mm wound.

Eugene Levy and Robert Forster do what they can with their roles as the team manager and owner, but even they understand that they are at the mercy of a script written for someone with an attention span shorter than Bow Wow. They just hit their marks and move on.

Director Schultz gives kids what they want, but forgets who has to drive the little boogers to the theater and sit next to them. Family films can be entertaining for both adults and children, but “Like Mike” isn’t one of them.


Pint-sized basketball star fails to score


Lil’ Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Brenda Song, Eugene Levy, Jesse Plemons, Anne Meara, Robert Forster, Crispin Glover. Directed by John Schultz. Rated PG. 101 Minutes.


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