Like Mike (2002)

21 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Like Mike” is an entertaining movie that brings a kid’s fantasy to life. A lot of kids dream to be like Michael Jordan—though I think I can omit the word “like” and just say they want to be Michael Jordan. Kids even wore Air Jordans because they thought these sneakers contained a special super power that made them like Mike. “Like Mike” is a movie in which that actually happens, and more.

“Like Mike” is about a thirteen-year-old kid living in an orphanage and hoping to be adopted by a loving family some day. His name is Calvin Cambridge (rapper Lil Bow Wow), who has an undying optimism and a real love for basketball. The problem is, he’s not very good at it—he’s small and not very coordinated. In the film’s opening scene, he’s humiliated on the group home’s back court by his enemy Ox (Jesse Plemons).

Calvin comes into possession of Michael Jordan’s old sneakers he wore when he was a kid (that would explain why they fit Calvin perfectly…or not). How does he know it’s Michael Jordan? He’s told the shoes belonged to the “tall, bald basketball player,” and the initials “M.J.” are written inside the tongue. Who else could it be? But Ox throws the sneakers so they hang by their laces over a power line. That night, Calviin goes to retrieve them during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes and somehow Calvin and the sneakers are magically linked together so that when Calvin puts them on, he’s “like Mike.”

When Calvin and his friends Murph (Jonathan Lipnicki) and Reg (Brenda Song) receive tickets to an L.A. Knights basketball game, Calvin wins a contest at a halftime show and is called down to the court to play a game of one-on-one with Knights player Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut). Because of the sneakers, Calvin is unbeatable. He scores twice (one of those shots from forty feet away) and then on the final shot, stuns everyone watching by actually dunking the ball after flying up to the hoop! This gets the attention of the Knights owner’s representative (played by Eugene Levy, who scores a few laughs) who convinces the coach (Robert Forster) to sign him onto the team. At first, it’s for public appearance to sell a lot more tickets. But Calvin does end up on the court and becomes the youngest NBA superstar. (Actually, because of his amazing skills in flying and dunking, he makes Michael Jordan look bad compared to him.)

The story, of course, leads to many, many games in which Calvin helps the Knights win and leads them to the finals. And of course, once someone very unreliable finds out about Calvin’s magic sneakers, this becomes a major complication. It’s the orphanage’s sleazy caretaker Bittleman (Crispin Glover) who signs to be Calvin’s legal guardian and get about half of Calvin’s investments.

However, this does bring the question, why would he later bet on the Knights to lose the Big Game, when he has enough money already? Why bother stealing Calvin’s sneakers so they’ll be sure to lose? And who appointed this man as the caretaker of an orphanage? He’s so evil that he even nearly burns Murph’s only picture of his late mother while interrogating him to find the sneakers in the first place. What a slimeball.

Another complaint I have is that among the cameos by real-life NBA players, such as Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan isn’t among them. OK, I guess the one-line joke about “losing to the Bulls” is supposed compensate for that. But I kind of missed him. I wonder what the movie would have been like if suddenly he realized Calvin’s secret and recognized his sneakers. Wouldn’t that be very interesting?

For what it is, however, “Like Mike” is an entertaining movie. A lot of credit must go to Lil Bow Wow, whose energetic charisma brings a lot of charm to the screen. He’s able to carry a movie. He’s confident, relaxed, funny, and convincing, as well—he plays this fantasy as if it were real.

I also enjoyed the kid’s relationship with Morris Chestnut’s Tracey Reynolds. At first, Tracey is annoyed by this kid after being beaten by him, and even more irritated by having to room with him. But they do form a nice friendship together that eventually turns into a father/son type relationship, which is obligatory but still nicely handled and well played by the two actors.

“Like Mike” isn’t terribly original with its standard scenes involving the bully, the relationship with an adult mentor, the orphanage situations (potential parents only want to adopt the smaller children), and the Big Game. But it does have a few things going for it, like a winning performance by the right young actor, a nice attempt at playing to a kid’s fantasy, and a sharp wit to the script as well.

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