|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 10 December 2002|
Rap music star Lil Bow Wow makes his screen debut in "Like Mike" as Calvin Cambridge, an orphan who finds a pair of sneakers that might have belonged to Michael Jordan. Once the sneakers are struck by lightning, wearing the sneakers gives young Calvin, all four feet eight inches of him, the skills and prowess of one of the greatest basketball stars to ever play the game.
”Like Mike,” with NBA superstars starring as themselves, brings a lot of immediate interest because of the game, the music, and the actors. Lil Bow Wow turns in a stellar performance as a wide-eyed waif who only wants a family. Backed by solid performances from Robert Forster as the Knights' coach and Eugene Levy as the gimmick-pumping team manager, as well as Crispin Glover's portrayal of the greedy, cold-hearted director of an orphanage, the movie delivers an ages-old plotline with new faces and new music, proving how successful such a formula still can be. The rule is simple in filmmaking: give the audiences what they want the way they want it.
Chapter 1 opens with a driving music score that gives us an instant attack of happy feet and a need to be up and moving. The backbeat lights up the subwoofer. Calvin, who feels he has a destiny greater than the orphanage, plays ball with his friends on the court at the Chesterfield Group Home Orphanage. The Chesterfield Group Home owes a tip of the hat to the works of Charles Dickens regarding the treatment of orphans, and the impersonal system headed by Director Biddleman (Glover) puts us squarely on the side of the angels in an eye-blink. Calvin is challenged by the orphanage bully, Ox, and ends up losing his beloved basketball jersey. As much as he wants his jersey, Calvin really just wants to be adopted by a family, and his desire and longing for that comes across in the continued confrontation with Ox, who insists they are all too old to hope for adoption.
Recruited by the orphanage director to sell candy, Calvin finds himself at Staples Center, home of the Knights Basketball team. The bass line of the music hammers the scene, moving into Calvin and Murph's commentary on the game being broadcast on the big screen. Later, fortune favors Calvin and he gets the opportunity to speak to the Knights’ coach. Calvin tells the coach he doesn't even know if the money goes to the group. The coach leaves tickets for Calvin for Sunday's game.
In Chapter 3, Calvin finds a pair of sneakers that catches his eye. A nun says the man who brought the shoes in told her that the sneakers used to belong to a famous basketball player, "the bald one." After finding the initials MJ inside the shoes, Calvin becomes convinced that the shoes used to belong to Michael Jordan.
In Chapter 4, thunder from a sudden storm rattles the subwoofer while rain pounds the pavement from all front and rear speakers, placing us in the center of the storm. As Calvin climbs a tree to retrieve the shoes, a massive lightning strike hits the shoes and blasts through the subwoofer. A power transformer detonates with an ear-splitting boom, but Calvin has the sneakers.
That Sunday, Calvin treats his friends and Ox to seats at the game. The Knights’ manager states that the team's owner wants some way to increase attendance. The gimmick? Someone in the audience will be chosen to go one-on-one with Tracy Reynolds. Calvin is selected as the audience member to come down to the court. In Chapter 5, drumbeats and audience's howls and applause fill the surround sound system, putting us in the center of the action. Calvin steps out onto the court, half the size of Tracy. The crowd gets behind Calvin, and the team manager is excited. While tying his shoes, Calvin says, "Make me like Mike," and residual electricity shoots through the shoes. Calvin scores on Tracy, and the innocence in his eyes comes across strongly. The dead silence that rings through the stadium after Calvin stuffs his third shot is as attention-getting as an explosion – most of “Like Mike” thrives on a series of high-volume sounds and the quiet is in direct opposition to that.
During a game in Chapter 8, the crowd noises echo all around the front and rear speakers, putting us in the stands. Calvin ends up getting to play, drawing a huge amount of crowd interaction.
Circumstances during the rest of the film serve to bring Tracy and Calvin together as roommates, teammates, then finally as friends. A prayer scene in Chapter 12 is a nice touch, and in Chapter 13, the "Basketball" song really serves the montage of game scenes showcasing Calvin's amazing skills. The rest of the movie follows familiar pacing and plot structure, but the acting and presentation, as well as the explosive sport scenes and exciting music, make the journey enjoyable and well worth taking.
The special features included in the DVD package bring the same kind of good-natured appeal realized in the movie. The story of the dreamer and the dream, which is the backbone of "Like Mike," comes across in the making-of featurette. Screenwriter Michael Elliot was with the project from initial concept to finished movie, which is almost unheard of in the film industry. All through the interviews and special features, the audience gets an idea of how much fun everyone connected with this movie had during the pre-production and filming.
"Like Mike" is a great evening's entertainment for the whole family -- just add popcorn and soda. The music pops and crackles with energy, the basic premise is well-worn but always touching, and the visual appeal of the sport of basketball, including cameos by the big guns in that field, moves the DVD along quickly. The language and subject matter are viewable even by the younger audiences. "Like Mike" belongs on the shelves of people who collect movies for their kids and movie fans who enjoy simple tales of the heart told well.