Like Mike

on July 03, 2002 by Kim Williamson
   "All orphans have destinies," says young Calvin Coolidge (now Bow Wow) early on in this contemporary melding of "It Happens Every Spring" and "Boys Town," and the line signals that writers Michael Elliott and Jordan Moffet are at least recognizing the specific humanities of their storyline: Calvin, a diminutive 14-year-old boy whose love is basketball but whose dream is to have parents, no longer believes. He doesn't believe he'll ever be good at the hoop game, and he doesn't believe he will ever be adopted. Here, just as with those films of 60 years ago, the outcome is needful -- there must be a happy ending -- and it is in the narrative arc between Calvin's despair and his ultimate ordained happiness that "Like Mike" ends up a jump ball.

   In the lead as the boy who is given super-physical powers by wearing the old childhood shoes of Michael Jordan and is signed by a pro basketball team, Bow Wow seems (almost desultorily) comfortable with the camera, which is not surprising, given that he has been performing on stage as a hip-hopper since his discovery at the age of 6 by rap veteran Snoop Dogg. As the Spencer Tracy variant, the paternal figure here being one Tracey Reynolds, slumping star of the NBA's struggling Los Angeles Knights who seems less intent on winning on the court than winning in the bedroom as a Shaft with the ladies, Morris Chestnut ("Two Can Play That Game") never brings a genuine warmth to his role, even when his character undergoes his also-needful transformation and comes to care for the tyke entrusted to him by the team coach (Robert Forster of "Jackie Brown") in an improbable conclusion. Given the tale, in which a young soul faces a heartless world, the inclusion of a human malefactor seems unnecessary; as the orphanage manager who bilks his wards for money and hits the jackpot with Calvin's sudden pro-sports riches, Crispin Glover ("Charlie's Angels") seems an odd choice for an odd character.

   The "Like Mike" TV ad campaign had a schizoid nature: In the wide-demo broadcast TV spots, "Like Mike" seemed to be an urban basketball fantasy; in the child-demo cable spots, the film's all-flags friendship between the young black protagonist and two fellow orphans, a young white boy (Jonathan Lipnicki of "The Little Vampire") and an Asian-American girl (Brenda Song of "Leave It to Beaver"), had the ascendancy. And, although a smaller part of the movie, it's that substory that works more authentically for "Like Mike's" likely demo. However intoxicating young moviegoers might find Calvin's on-court success, what was needful onscreen was more of the simple humanity a story about orphans should not only have recognized but delivered. All children, like Calvin, sometimes feel like residents of the island of misfit toys, but however much they like the passing thrill of strangers' cheers what they really want is the lasting warmth of the companionship of friends. Starring Lil Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki and Crispin Glover. Directed by John Schultz. Written by Michael Elliott and Jordan Moffet. Produced by Barry Josephson and Peter Heller. A Fox release. Drama/Fantasy. Rated PG for brief mild language. Running time: 100 min

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