There is little wonder and awe to "Like Mike" (IMDb listing), a film that centers around a pair of magical sneakers and other assorted fantasies that require a respectful level of disbelief that normally would be associated with films of this nature. In place of supernatural delights in "Like Mike," what we get is an awkward comedy, an improbable moral, and a plot that is a rehash of the 1993 sports fantasy "Rookie Of The Year" (which had a young boy joining a pro baseball team).
As a 13 year-old orphan, Calvin (rapper Lil' Bow Wow, making his starring debut) is having an increasingly hard time being adopted. Couple that with an in-house bully (a disturbingly realistic Jesse Plemons) and a shady house manager (aptly cast Crispin Glover), and you can see life for Calvin is pretty rough. Happening upon a pair of old Nikes with the initials M.J. written on them, Calvin tries them on and his basketball game soars dramatically to the level of a seasoned pro. During one halftime show at the local L.A. Knights game, Calvin gets a chance to show off his newfound "talents" and is soon signed to the team full time. The management assigns a troubled player (Morris Chestnut) to watch over Calvin, and a bond soon forms between the two basketball stars.
There are many troubles with "Like Mike," but in its favor, the film has a nice sugary kids' movie flow. This film's idea is catnip for 12-year olds, utilizing mainstream basketball dreams and unlimited resources for the average teenager's dream of the odyssey into superstardom. If anything, "Like Mike" is bright and cheery, and at least has some ground work laid for a nice message about self-confidence and the importance of fatherhood. My hopes were high for the film to follow through on some of its higher aspirationsthe ones outside of slam dunks, product placement, and one obnoxious lead actor.
I'm sad to report that "Like Mike" is an ineptly made picture that lacks almost all logic and consistency. It moves fast, using Lil' Bow Wow's insignificant charms and colorful photography to lull the audience into ignoring the fact that, well, almost nothing in the film adds up in the end. Tracey Reynolds, Calvin's basketball guardian, has dad troubles just like Calvin, but we never learn what they are. Nor do we learn the shoes' true effect on Calvin. There is a huge hint late in the game that the Nikes might not be the source of Calvin's power on the court as previously suggested. I kept waiting for the "it's not the shoes, Calvin, it's really you out there!" speech, but it never came. So do the shoes hold a mysterious power? Ask the filmmakers if you happen to see them on the street. Maybe they'll know.
The themes of "Like Mike" add up to something about fatherhood, greed, and the dangers of leaving a 13 year-old with free room service. Not exceedingly convincing stuff on display, and you can tell the director, John Schultz ("Drive Me Crazy"), gave up a long time ago trying to shape something worthwhile out of this disposable kids' film. Schultz lingers too long on Lil' Bow Wow, hoping to siphon any of the energy the child actor gives off in his successful rap career. When the filmmaking turns to Benny Hill-style under-cranking and paint fights for "fun," you know all is lost. Regrettably, "Like Mike" is more reminiscent of Michael Jordan's short lived baseball career than his legendary basketball one.
Filmfodder Grade: D