By Ann Hornaday">
washingtonpost.com
'Like Mike': Lil' Bow Wow Jumps Through the Hoops

By Ann Hornaday
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 3, 2002

"Like Mike"?

Not really. This "heartfelt family comedy," as its marketers describe it, is more pointedly a slick piece of cross-promotion for stuff that has nothing to do with the movies. Weirdly, the packaging geniuses at the NBA (which co-produced "Like Mike") have chosen rap star Lil' Bow Wow to sell their basketball tickets and merchandise. Although the preternaturally gifted rapper and dancer is able to strut his stuff for a few minutes in "Like Mike," his gifts are largely wasted in favor of a tiresome story and myriad special effects sequences. Maybe next time his agents can find him a movie in which he – oh, gee, let's see – actually sings and dances.

Taking a little from "Oliver Twist" here, a bit from "Cinderella" there, and just a dash from "The Red Shoes" for good measure, "Like Mike" concerns a cunning little orphan named Calvin (Bow Wow) whose problem is that he isn't all that young: At 13, he has aged out of the infant-toddler stage at which most kids are adopted. Like most youngsters their age, Calvin and his best friends at the orphanage, Murph and Reg (Jonathan Lipnicki and Brenda Song), are flat-out hoops crazy: They while away their time shooting baskets, playing one-on-one and cheering on their local NBA team, the Los Angeles Knights. But the closest they get to a real game is when they're forced to sell candy outside the Staples Center by the latter-day Fagin who runs their group home with sadistic despotism (the villain is played with slithery malevolence by Crispin Glover).

Calvin's life of misery – he desperately longs for a family, preferably one like Will Smith's on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" – is interrupted one day when he tries on a pair of donated sneakers. Not only are they a perfect fit, but the initials "M.J." are inscribed inside. Convinced that his new shoes once belonged to Michael Jordan, Calvin begins to undergo a startling makeover: The kid who couldn't shoot straight is suddenly flying through the air just like his idol. When Calvin unexpectedly gets to see a Knights game in person, and even more unexpectedly is given the chance to show his new moves during halftime, the team's manager (Eugene Levy) sees a gold mine: The Knights sign Calvin and find a terrific new marketing gimmick: "He's lean, he's mean, he's 13."

"Like Mike" features its share of inside-basketball jokes, especially some witty segments featuring real-life NBA players like Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd. But despite its moments of comedy and some nice chemistry between Bow Wow and co-star Morris Chestnut as the Knight who reluctantly mentors Calvin, there's something troubling about a movie that depicts would-be parents trolling an adoption center like so many Kmart shoppers. It should come as no surprise when Calvin ultimately finds his "Fresh Prince" and that he and his friends embark on a wonderful new life. But the frightening myths about adoption that run through "Like Mike" make even its happiest endings a little bit creepy.

LIKE MIKE (PG, 100 minutes) Contains brief mild profanity. At area theaters.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company