Calvin (Lil’ Bob Wow) lives in a Los Angeles orphanage with best friend Murph (Jonathan Lipnicki) and Reg (Brenda Song), run by Bittleman (Crispin Glover). He’s 14, loves basketball, and despite being short, he fantasises about being a famous professional. And being adopted. After acquiring a pair of used sneakers – maybe once owned by the legendary MJ when he was a kid – Calvin gets a chance to play in a professional team with its star Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut), coach Wagner (Robert Forster) and team boss Frank Bernard (Eugene Levy). Bittleman wants to cash in on Calvin’s rise to fame, but all Calvin wants is a family – and maybe a little pro basketball.
Review by Louise Keller:
Propelled by its dynamic, diminutive star Lil’ Bow Wow, Like Mike is an energetic and fun-filled fantasy family film. It may be predictable, but the film has a very sweet heart, and much of its charm comes from Lil’ Bow Wow’s natural zest, which goes beyond his rap talents. It’s hard to believe that this is his film debut. Of course his rap success speaks for itself and we do get to hear a couple of samples in the rhythmic soundtrack. Just like Orphan Annie (and Stuart Little), Calvin is longing for a family of his own, and it’s a premise that carries some mystical magic in this Cinderella story of the kid with braids and attitude. Of course, the big gag is a visual one, with the diminutive Bow Wow contrasting with the NBA giants. But he is very quick on his feet and quite a whiz with the ball as he scurries between, beneath and around the pro players who initially dismiss him as a gimmick. You don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy this movie – or even to understand terminology like slam dunk or jump shot. As the relationship develops between Calvin and the team’s star player Tracey (Morris Chestnut, terrific), it’s not hard to guess where the film is leading, but it’s a satisfying resolution and there are some moving moments along the way. There’s some slapstick and some humorous situations (Eugene Levy always manages to leave his mark), while strong performances from Robert Forster’s fatherly coach and Crispin Glover’s hiss-boo villain ensure the youngsters are entertained. A slight reservation about Jonathan Lipnicki’s performance; surely director John Schultz could have avoided schmaltzy, cutsy facial responses for every single thing. It might be great in Jerry Maguire and Stuart Little, but somehow his Murph is too ‘Hollywood kid’ to be believable as rough ‘n tumble Calvin’s best pal.
This adolescent fantasy is essentially about belonging, overcoming fear and believing in yourself. It may be an improbable trip, but there’s plenty of fun and bounce.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Formula rules in this dreams-come-true pre-teen comedy/drama, which lacks real inspiration but avoids bumping into the furniture, as it were. All the good intentions and moralising spread a veneer of superficiality over the film, and the venality of Bittleman as the manager of the orphanage strikes a really silly note, not to mention defying credibility beyond normal limits. The annoying thing about Like Mike is that it tries so hard to push all the politically correct and humane buttons that it becomes overwhelmingly a sermon instead of a story. Lil’ – or should that be Bow – is endearing enough and I suspect he’s more fun than he’s allowed to be here. Given a better vehicle, he could make us care about his character and his fate… The film ends up shallow and manipulative, predictable and lacklustre. Of course, young American kids won’t agree with me, and it’s a film for them, after all.
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NEXT WEEK - FEATURE by Max Levant
LIKE MIKE (G)
CAST: Lil' Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Julius Ritter, Crispin Glover
PRODUCER: Barry Josephson, Peter Heller
DIRECTOR: John Schultz
SCRIPT: Mike Elliott, Jordan Moffett
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Shawn Maurer
EDITOR: Peter E. Berger, John Pace
MUSIC: Richard Gibbs (songs – Lil’Bow Wow; Da Brat; Jermaine Dupri)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arlan Jay Vetter
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 16, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: June 18, 2003