like mike (2002)


director: john schultz

lil' bow wow, morris chestnut, eugene levy

Lil’ Bow Wow is less than five feet tall but, thanks to some magical basketball sneakers, he becomes an NBA star. If you can’t accept this premise, you have no reason to see Like Mike.

John Schultz’ film sets up the story with the usual creaky, venerable cliches. Not only is Calvin - Lil’ Bow Wow’s character - short, he’s an orphan, one of a group of forlorn, apparently unadoptable older children marooned in an orphanage run by a kindly nun (Anne Meara) and a venal social worker (Crispin Glover, a compellingly strange actor whose career has followed no discernable logic.)

The magic shoes - the letters “MJ” inked on the tongues (I’m assuming they’re not Michael Jackson’s initials) - make Calvin a hoop demon after an alchemical incident involving lightning, and when he bests all-star forward Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut, who might prove to be the black Cary Grant if he fires his agent) in a half-time contest at L.A.’s Staples Center, he ends up with a spot on Reynold’s team, as a publicity stunt orchestrated by oily general manager Eugene Levy.

If you buy the midget basketball star and the magic shoes, you’ll have no problem believing that coach Robert Forster actually plays Calvin, and ends up on a winning streak that takes the team to the finals. Inevitably, Calvin and Tracey become road roomies, as a set-up for their realization that Tracey is the dad Calvin’s been waiting for. There are fewer surprised in Like Mike than in an NBA regular season game.

There are villains, of course. Glover’s greedy social worker intends to exploit Calvin and make a killing betting against his team when he steals Calvin’s magic sneakers with the aid of Ox (Jesse Plemons), the orphanage bully - you can tell he’s bad because he dresses like a Vietnam vet. The ending, when it comes, is as sickly sweet as an aspartame sugar cube, but an audience of pre-tweens will appreciate the cartoon-like beatdowns inflicted on the villains, a merry paint-fight at Tracey’s pristine Bel Air pad, and the recurring belch jokes.