Like Mike (2002)


USA. 2002.


Director – John Schultz, Screenplay – Michael Elliot & Jordan Moffet, Story – Michael Elliot, Producers – Peter Heller & Barry Josephson, Photography – Shawn Maurer, Music – Richard Gibbs, Visual Effects – Pixel Magic (Supervisor – Ray McIntyer [McIntyre] Jr), Special Effects Supervisor – Paul Lombardi, Production Design – Arlan Jay Vetter. Production Company – 20th Century Fox/NBA Entertainment/Heller Highwater/Josephson Entertainment


Lil Bow Wow (Calvin Cambridge), Morris Chestnut (Tracy Reynolds), Jonathan Lipnicki (Murph), Crispin Glover (Stan Bittelman), Jesse Plemons (Ox), Robert Forster (Coach Wagner), Eugene Levy (Frank Bernard), Brenda Song (Reg Stevens), Anne Meara (Sister Theresa), Reginald Veljohnson (Mr Boyd), Vanessa Williams (Allegra), Sandra Prosper (Janet Kelly), Valerie Pettiford (Mrs Boyd)


Calvin Cambridge is an orphan at L.A.’s Chesterfield Group Orphanage who loves basketball. He is offered free tickets to a Los Angeles Knights basketball game by the Knights’ Coach Wagner. Wagner also gifts some second-hand items to the orphanage, one of which is a pair of used sneakers with the initials M.J. Calvin believes that this means the sneakers used to belong to Michael Jordan. A bully throws the sneakers over a power line but Calvin ventures up to rescue them in the rain, only for an electric shock to run through both him and the shoes. At the game, Calvin finds that he has the lucky ticket that entitles him to shoot off against top player Tracy Reynolds. Calvin wishes the sneakers would make him “like Mike” and is able to pot three stunning goals. Knights’ manager Frank Bernard decides to make Calvin a member of the team as a novelty promotion. After persuading Coach Wagner to sub him on, Calvin, with the aid of the magical shoes, is able to score an extraordinary number of goals and turns the Knights losing streak around. He becomes a star player and is put on contract with the team. On tour, he bonds with the reluctant Tracy and starts to wish that Tracy would adopt him. However, Calvin’s newfound stardom has meant that other parents desire to adopt him, while those at the orphanage are seeking to both exploit and sabotage his success.

Like Mike is a film that you can only greet with cynicism. There is a great debate among various parental groups about whether commercial companies should be allowed to advertise during children’s programming on television, let alone allow them to conduct product placements in children’s films. Like Mike is a family film that feels like it has been construed as a 99-minute infomercial promoting the NBA.

The plot for Like Mike has been almost entirely stolen from the British film There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000), which had a young boy finding a pair of soccer boots that previously belonged to a star player that were magically empowered and transformed him into a sensation on the field able to turn around the team’s losing streak. Like Mike substitutes the all-American sport of basketball for soccer but could otherwise be the same plot transplanted across the channel. Jimmy Grimble was a modestly likeable film but Like Mike feels like a children’s film/sports fantasy entirely by the numbers.

The bizarrely monikered Lil Bow Wow (a kid rapper more mundanely born as Shad Moss) gives an insipid performance – one would have far preferred to see the lower-billed Jonathan Lipnicki of Jerry Maguire (1996) and The Little Vampire (2000) fame in the lead role. On the other hand, Morris Chestnut, an increasingly underrated actor with everything that one sees him in, has a very likeable charisma. The middle of the film at least becomes a passable, if entirely predictable, rehash of the well-worn story of an adult lumbered with a responsibility he doesn’t want becoming a grudging substitute parent and eventually warming to the task.

The problem that one had here was of the eminent predictably of the arcs that both the central characters have – Morris Chestnut’s Tracy has the role of the one who will adopt Lil Bow Wow virtually stamped on his forehead from the moment he agrees to accept the task of rooming with him. In fact, everything about the film is completely predictable – the villainy trying to sabotage Lil Bow Wow; that Bow Wow is chosen by a family who seem absolutely perfect but are also not the right ones; that his shoes will collapse just when the team is one point away from winning and that Lil Bow Wow will triumph nevertheless by realising that the real magic comes from within. Things eventually degenerate to tiresome slapstick chases with kids on scooters and the villains’ car ending up dumped in the drink. The biggest complaint one might make as a non-American is that Like Mike is a film that is made solely for American audiences and has almost zero appeal in terms of its sports references anywhere outside of the country.

Like Mike 2 (2006) was a sequel.

John Schultz went onto direct one other genre film with Aliens in the Attic (2009). He has also made the likes of Drive Me Crazy (1999), The Honeymooners (2005) and Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (2011).

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