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"Like Mike" is a sure-fire heart-warmer: lively, funny yet emotion-charged and uplifting.
This family-friendly movie, about a little kid who ends up a star on an NBA team, soars above so many sports comedies because director John Schultz and writers Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet aim as high as the basketball hoops that figure so importantly in their story.
They consistently set off the fast-moving fantasy action on a basketball court with the reality of a father-son relationship that develops in tentative fits and starts and no small amount of anguish, even given considerable humor. The youngest solo rap star to ever hit the top of the charts, Lil' Bow Wow (who recently dropped the Lil') makes a terrific film debut opposite Morris Chestnut, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as the star player of the Los Angeles Knights. He's a suave ladies' man who makes no secret of his reluctance to mentor a pint-sized 13-year-old basketball whiz who, worse yet, outshines him on the court.
The filmmakers take pains to set up their premise before running with it. Lil' Bow Wow's Calvin Cambridge lives in an orphanage (gulp), a somewhat rundown turn-of-the-last-century mansion not far from Staples Center, where the Knights are doing so poorly that announcer Frank Bernard (Eugene Levy), as a promotional gimmick, holds raffles in which the lucky ticket-holder gets to go one on one with Chestnut's Tracey Reynolds.
The Knights' kindly Coach Wagner (Robert Forster) has given Calvin some free tickets and, sure enough, he's the lucky winner.
Much to Calvin's and Tracey's astonishment, the 4-foot, 8-inch boy trounces the basketball star, for Calvin happens to be wearing magical sneakers. (How and why they got that way is too inspired to be revealed here.)
The Knights promptly sign up Calvin, seeing him as their salvation, and Tracey is ordered to be his roommate. That the boy might cramp his style as a playboy is but the tip of the iceberg: Having rejected his own father, he resents Calvin's open craving for a dad. When Tracey starts to develop paternal feelings despite much resistance for this brash kid, he has no idea how to be a father. Tracey's journey within himself and with Calvin takes the film to an entirely new and serious level.
At the same time, the filmmakers have the wisdom to realize that magic seems inevitably to wear off; that moment happens when Calvin discovers not only the full meaning of what it means to be a team player but also that receiving involves giving. "Like Mike" earns the warm feelings it elicits as fully as it does its many laughs.
The film surrounds its stars with lots of fine actors. Crispin Glover's orphanage administrator seems a perfectly decent fellow, until he smells big bucks in Calvin; Anne Meara is funny as Calvin's doughty no-nonsense tutor Sister Theresa; and stunning Sandra Prosper has a delightfully well-played scene as Tracey's date, distracted by her maternal concern for Calvin.
Rounding out a very large cast are 18 NBA players and about half a dozen prominent sportscasters playing themselves. A well-crafted film carefully thought-out in all its aspects, "Like Mike" may well deliver audiences a richer experience than they had anticipated.
MPAA rating: PG, for brief mild language. Times guidelines: suitable for all ages.
Lil' Bow Wow...Calvin
Morris Chestnut...Tracey Reynolds
Robert Forster...Coach Wagner
Crispin Glover...Stan Bittleman
A 20th Century Fox presentation in association with NBA Entertainment. Director John Schultz. Producers Barry Josephson, Peter Heller. Executive producers Adam Silver, Gregg Wink. Screenplay Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet; from a story by Moffet. Cinematographer Shawn Maurer. Editors Peter Berger, John Pace. Music Richard Gibbs. Costumes Mary Jane Fort. Production designer Arlan Jay Vetter. Art director John R. Zachary. Set designers Kristen Davis, Colin de Rouin. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
In general release.