Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Movie Review: Like Mike

Let me first say that I would never have seen this movie on my own. My aunt calls me and says she has tickets to the premiere. The premiere. The one with the red carpets and the stars of the movie.

My response was, "Isn't there someone else you want to invite?"


"Well, alright, I guess I'll go."

So I went with my aunt and her two kids and their two friends. We stood on the red carpet, saw Lil' Bow Wow in all his 4-ft-tall glory, as well as some of the other actors in the movie, including Jerry Maguire's wisecracking tot, Jonathan Lipnicki. The temptation to go up to him and inform him that the human head weighs eight pounds was strong, but I managed to keep my Hollywood cool.

Then we watched the movie.

Lil' Bow Wow plays Calvin, an ragamuffin orphan who sucks at basketball. He and his fellow orphans, including best friends Murph (Lipnicki) and Reg (Brenda Song), are forced by their Miss Hanigan-esque orphanage guardian, Stan Bittleman (the awesome Crispin Glover), to sell candy late at night in the parking lot of the Staples Center, where the fictional "L.A. Knights" play basketball. The money is presumably pocketed by the not-so-on-the-up-and-up Bittleman. It's in the parking lot that Calvin meets the Knights' coach, Coach Wagner (Robert Forster), who gives the kid a few tickets for an upcoming Knights game.

Back at the orphanage, Calvin gets a new pair of donated tennis shoes, "once owned by a famous basketball player." He looks at the inside of the shoes, to find the initials "M.J." scrawled on the tongue. Could it be? The beauty of the script is: we are never told. But Calvin believes.

When one of the bully orphans tosses his new shoes up on a power wire, Calvin goes up one rainy night to get them. Just as he grabs them, lightning strikes the wire, imbuing the shoes with special powers.

Calvin is wearing them the night he goes to the Knights game. His seat number is randomly selected for a halftime challenge, where he gets to play Knights player Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut) for 2 minutes. Of course, the shoes help Calvin put on quite a show, and the team's general manager (Eugene Levy) decides to put Calvin on the team--as a publicity stunt to raise the sagging attendance of the Knight's games.

Calvin's mad B-ball skillz of course not only boost attendance, but lift the Knights out of their slump and help them kick ass. Calvin also thinks he may have found a possible "dad" to adopt him in his teammate, Tracey. Morris Chestnut does a great job as Tracey, an emotionally distant guy whose dysfunctional relationship with his own father dictates his intial distance with Calvin.

Tracey and Calvin's relationship is the heart of this movie, and the movie does have heart. It also has the fun basketball stuff. For adult viewers, this movie kind of struck me like SpyKids: watching Calvin in those shoes--like watching the two spy kids with all their gadgets--makes you feel like a kid again. You feel that fun and magic and exhilaration.

The movie has its slow spots and a silly scooter chase ending, but all in all, I had a fun time watching it. Crispin Glover's understated performance as Bittleman cracked me up to no end--he is so off-kilter and weird; kids in the audience didn't really "get" him, but, shit, he was funny. And Morris Chestnut did a great job; he didn't just "phone in" a performance for some silly kids movie, but rather gave his character a sense of humanity and emotion that contributed greatly to the film.

Anyway, if you've got kids, be sure to bring 'em to this one! You'll enjoy yourself as well.


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