Lil' Bow Wow is 14-year-old orphan Calvin Cambridge, who dreams of being a professional basketball player. When he dons a pair of old sneakers with the faded initials ''M.J.'' inscribed inside them, he displays amazing hoop skills that catch the attention of the NBA.
Calvin Cambridge (played by Bow Wow) is a likeable 14-year-old kid who lives at the Chesterfield Group Home orphanage. He has two aspirations in life: One is to be adopted by a loving family modeled after the Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the other is to be a basketball player. Hope arrives in the form of an old pair of Nikes that Sister Theresa (played by Anne Meara) brings in a shipment of Salvation Army goodies, adorned with the faded initials ''M.J.,'' which Calvin assumes stands for basketball legend Michael Jordan. But the shoes go through an ordeal of their own before Calvin can get them on his feet: Bullies take the sneakers from him and throw them over some power lines, where they are struck by lightning. Suddenly, Calvin finds he is able to make 30-foot jump shots on the orphanage court. His newfound talent gets him recruited by the embattled Los Angeles Knights, who see Calvin as a new gimmick to fill empty stadium seats. While Calvin is enamored by all the perks that come with playing for the NBA, the sport cannot satisfy his need for a loving family.
The soft-spoken Bow Wow (All About the Benjamins) tugs at every heartstring in Like Mike, with viewers subject to many close-ups of his tear-stained cheeks. His performance is mediocre--in some scenes, you can almost see him taking orders from the director--but Bow Wow has enough character and sincerity to pull it off. He's content in the spotlight, which is not surprising, considering he has been practically preened for it since birth. Morris Chestnut (Two Can Play That Game) plays Tracey Reynolds, a slick NBA player who is assigned to be Calvin's mentor. Morris is completely at ease playing the flashy athlete with a soft side, and he gives the relationship between Tracey and Calvin a certain air of sweetness. Crispin Glover plays Calvin's evil guardian, Stan Bittleman, but his performance isn't up to par with his past roles, including the time he almost kicked David Letterman in the head while taping Late Night. Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire) and Brenda Song (Requiem) play Calvin's loyal orphanage buds, and they do so without being too smart-alecky. Cameo appearances by NBA stars Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, Vince Carter and Chris Webber (among others) add to the film's authenticity.
Like Mike plays out more like an after-school special than a feature film; it's formulaic and relies heavily on one gimmick after another. With the film light on laughs but heavy on sentiment, director John Schultz (Drive Me Crazy) makes sure every bit of sap is extracted from scribe Michael Elliot's (Carmen: A Hip Hopera) script, making the film less challenging for adult viewers. The kids, for example, live in a '50s-style orphanage where prospective parents file in and look for children to adopt like puppies in a store window. (They always pick the young ones, the older children lament.) But children, no doubt, will feel for the 4-foot-8-inch Calvin as he slam-dunks the ball into the hoop and dangles from it, his little legs flailing in the air. And this cutesy package of a film comes complete with a moral at the end of the story, when the vertically challenged hero learns a valuable lesson about facing up to one's fears.
If you're looking for a film to take your children to this weekend, Like Mike is a reasonable choice, especially if your tots are past the animated-feature phase and are big fans of Lil' Bow Wow. Adults, however, may find this film too sappy and formulaic.