Rated PG - Running Time: 1:40 - Released 7/3/02

A very run-of-the-mill kid sports fantasy, John Schultz's Like Mike tells an adequate story and imparts the requisite moral lessons, but does so with very little sparkle. Written by Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet, it stars 15-year-old rapper Lil' Bow Wow (whose real name is Shad Moss) as an inner-city orphan from L.A. who dreams of being a great basketball player (like Michael Jordan, who, it should be noted, does not appear in the film) and gets his wish thanks to a pair of supernatural sneakers. A sort of cross between Annie and Air Bud, the film is full of stereotypical characters, plot holes, and unconvincing dialogue delivered by a host of so-so actors, most of whom seem to be putting in time until something better to comes along. Bow Wow himself ( from now on I'll just call him Wow) is not a bad actor, and has already established an impressive resumé for a kid his age, having begun his rapping career at age 3 and guest-starring at age 9 on TV shows like Moesha and The Steve Harvey Show, as well as carrying a supporting role in the Ice Cube/Mike Epps action comedy All About The Benjamins, released earlier this year. He also reportedly composed songs for Like Mike, at least one of which he sings, as well as for Martin Lawrence's 2000 film Big Momma's House. His acting is adequate, but one would wish he had had a better vehicle for his first starring role.

Calvin Cambridge (Wow) is one of the kids at the Chesterfield Orphanage in Los Angeles, and like his friends Murph (Jonathan Lipnicki, Stuart Little) and Reg (Brenda Song), is bullied by the bigger, tougher kids, primarily "Ox" (Jesse Plemons), and virtually ignored by the facility's deadbeat manager, Mr. Bittleman (Crispin Glover). An avid basketball fan, Calvin is not much of a player until he receives a donated pair of high-tops with the initials "M.J." on them. After they are thrown onto an electrical wire and struck by lightning, Calvin gets them down and tries them on. Suddenly he's an amazing player on the court, and his newfound technique results in his winning a halftime one-on-one competition at an L.A. Knights game against Knights player Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut). Soon he is drafted onto the struggling team by its no-nonsense coach (Robert Forster), and is traveling all over the country, learning the joys of room service and commercial flying, annoying his unwilling roommate, Reynolds, while somehow staying at the orphanage too. His outstanding playing (as long as he has the shoes) leads the team to the playoffs, while Bittleman and the team's sleazy P.R. manager (Eugene Levy) try to figure out ways to parlay Calvin's talent into their own personal gain, and the orphanage's nun (Anne Meara) makes sure he keeps up on his studies.

This could have been a much better film if it had writers and a director who cared about making sense and actors who cared about making characters. Although Wow seems to be putting forth his best effort, his adult co-stars are generally uninterested, and with good reason. Besides the obvious discrepancy of the plot's main conceit (a kid being drafted by a pro sports team, and being its best player), there are numerous unbelievable story threads and, despite the impression given by the trailer, no magic. After one amazing jump (seen in the trailer), Calvin is never seen doing anything spectacular or superhuman—he's just a better player when he's wearing the shoes. There are several cameos by NBA players, which might please some fans, but anyone over 12 who goes to this movie expecting something exciting (or even entertaining) may be disappointed. Unless they remembered their lucky M.J. pillow. **½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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