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John Schultz
Lil' Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Brenda Song, Jesse Plemons, Crispin Glover, Anne Meara, Robert Forster, Eugene Levy
Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet

Box Office:
Budget $30 million.
Opening weekend $12.179 million on 2410 screens.
Domestic gross $51.423 million.
Rated PG for brief mild language.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 12/10/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director John Schultz and Actors Lil Bow Wow and Jonathan Lipnicki
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Director’s Commentary
• “Off the Hook and Off the Set” Featurette
• “The Making of Like Mike” Featurette
• Music Video

Music soundtrack

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Like Mike (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Remember back when L’il Abner was the only famous l’il? Now they threaten to overrun the planet. Virtually all of the l’ils appear in the rap domain, where we find characters such as L’il Kim, L’il Romeo and L’il Bow Wow, among a couple million others.

The rap world may include one fewer l’il depending on what source you check. Sometimes he’s called L’il Bow Wow, but sometimes we seem him listed just as Bow Wow. He’s still little, though, which creates part of the gimmick seen in Like Mike, his bow as a leading actor.

Like Mike follows the inhabitants of the Chesterfield Group Home Orphanage. Calvin Cambridge (Bow Wow) hangs out with his younger buddy Murph (Jonathan Lipnicki) and plays ball with the kids. However, bigger peer Ox (Jesse Plemons) pushes him around, and we see that Calvin doesn’t have much game.

Sleazy orphanage headmaster Bittleman (Crispin Glover) makes the kids sell candy outside basketball games at Staples Center; though the money purports to go for the children, it seems clear that instead it’ll line Bittleman’s pockets. After the game, Calvin tries to move some chocolate on Los Angeles Knights Coach Wagner (Robert Forster), but he admires the man too much to take his money. Impressed with the boy’s sincerity, Wagner offers the kid comp tickets for an upcoming game.

In the meantime, Sister Theresa (Anne Meara) brings some clothes donations to the orphanage. Calvin snags a pair of old sneakers that apparently belonged to an NBA great when he was a kid. The nun doesn’t recall his name, but the letters “MJ” stenciled inside the shoes offer a tantalizing prospect. Annoying, Ox steals the sneakers and tosses them onto a power line, but Calvin rescues them during an electrical storm.

During the Knights game the kids attend, Calvin wins a lottery that pits him in a one-on-one contest against Knights star Tracy Reynolds (Morris Chestnut). Pushed into it by general manager Frank Bernard (Eugene Levy), Tracy agrees to take it easy on the kid, but it turns out that he’ll meet his match. With the “MJ” sneakers on his feet, Calvin shows incredible basketball skills. He makes three-point shots and flies through the air for an amazing dunk.

Bernard signs Calvin for a one-game PR stunt, and he intends to leave the boy on the bench. However, Wagner puts the kid in the content and he eventually wins it for the struggling Knights. This takes them on a tear that leads the floundering team into playoff contention.

Wagner pairs Calvin with Tracy when the Knights hit the road, something that doesn’t sit well with the older player. He feels very standoffish toward Calvin at the start, but inevitably, he starts to warm up to the kid. Potential adoptive parents come out of the woodwork to take on the suddenly famous Calvin, but Bittleman rebuffs them so he can keep the boy’s money for himself. In the meantime, a jealous Ox learns Calvin’s secret and causes problems in that domain.

Like Mike doesn’t exactly tread new ground. We’ve already seen other sports flicks in which kids suddenly gain fantastic skills. For example, in Rookie of the Year, we watch a boy become an unstoppable pitcher. Nothing about Mike alters that formula to offer something distinctive, even though the Michael Jordan references should bring life to it.

As such, this means it lives and dies with its execution. Unfortunately, mostly the movie flops. Its best moments come from the cameos by the NBA talent. They prove wonderfully willing to make fun of themselves, and it seems quite gutsy of them to allow themselves to be upstaged by the pint-sized Bow.

Other than those cameos, however, I find little to like about Mike. Frankly, it comes across more like a marketing opportunity than a movie. It enjoys a surprisingly competent supporting cast, with performers such as Chestnut, Levy, Forster, Meara and Glover on display. However, virtually none of them seem engaged by the material. As a result, they coast through the film on autopilot and never do much to bring the product to life.

As an actor, Bow proves to be quite weak. He consistently seems unnatural and forced. You can actually see him think of the lines before he says them throughout the movie. The kid appears to have a natural charisma that carries him to a certain degree, but his acting skills are currently non-existent. Bow actually makes Lipnicki look talented, which I didn’t think was possible.

I’m sure Bow Wow’s young fans will get a kick out of his leading man debut, but I find it hard to imagine others will get much from Like Mike. The movie seems dull and plodding and it never goes much of anywhere. Despite an intriguing variation on a theme, the flick tracks along predictable lines and fails to ever turn into something entertaining or winning.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus B

Like Mike appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. A few too many concerns appeared to make Like Mike an excellent image, but it usually looked quite good.

Sharpness mostly came across as solid. Wide shots tended to be a little fuzzy at times, but those occasionally occurred infrequently. Mainly the movie looked nicely distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no issues, but I did notice a little light edge enhancement. Some slight artifacting showed up as well, but otherwise, the movie remained clean and fresh, with no problems related to print flaws.

Like Mike featured a bright and lively palette that worked well on the DVD. Colors consistently looked vivid and dynamic, and they demonstrated no concerns of any sort. Instead, they seemed cleanly saturated and brilliant. Black levels appeared deep and rich as well, but shadow detail came across as slightly heavy on a couple of bedtime sequences. Those shots demonstrated mild thickness, but generally the low-light shots appeared appropriately opaque. The majority of Like Mike resided in “A”-level, so despite this mix of small problems, I still felt satisfied with most of the image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also worked nicely for the most part. Given the light comedy genre in which the film resides, I found the mix to offer a surprisingly active affair. Actually, it came across as a little too active at times. For example, during one sequence the sound of a bouncing basketball reverberated heavily in the rear channels, and that seemed too over the top; it became a distraction when the mix used the surrounds so intensely.

However, those occasions occurred fairly infrequently, and the mix generally appeared nicely lively and effective. Music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and effects presented a solid setting. Basketball games and outdoor settings provided realistic environments that used all five channels positively and cleanly for the most part. A scooter chase scene at the end of the film offered some smooth and involving use of the different speakers as well.

Audio quality appeared fine. Speech came across as natural and warm, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music sounded bright and dynamic, and the occasional rap songs presented tight bass. Effects appeared distinct and accurate, and they also showed deep and rich low-end response. In the end, the soundtrack of Like Mike never excelled at much, but it seemed strong enough on a consistent basis to earn a “B+”.

For this release of Like Mike, we discover a mix of supplements. Most of these appear on one side of the DVD or the other, but the audio commentary appears on both. It features a running, screen-specific chat from director John Schultz plus actors Bow Wow and Jonathan Lipnicki, all of whom were recorded together – mostly. On a few occasions, it included some remarks from Schultz that clearly came from a separate session, but the majority of the material emanated from one gathering.

Really, the commentary came across like two different tracks. That was because Bow split about halfway through the film to “take care of BI”. While he stayed in the room, he and Schultz dominated the piece. Occasionally some information about the making of the film popped up, but mostly the commentary consisted of notes about what the different participants liked, and the director and Bow argued a lot about different elements. Bow often insisted that something was done one way and talked back when Schultz said differently. Frankly, Bow came across as somewhat snotty and full of himself, but he’s a teenager, so that’s to be expected. (I’m still not sure if he consistently called Lipnicki “Murph” because he used the character’s name as a nickname for the actor or if he simply couldn’t remember Jonathan’s real name.)

After Bow left the session, the previously subdued Lipnicki came to life, but the track continued to offer little concrete information. During the first half, we learned a little about pieces like working with the basketball stars and Bow’s “orphan hair” vs. his “NBA hair”, but the second half of the flick failed to present much useful material. Instead, the suddenly chatty Lipnicki largely just narrated the film. Schultz occasionally tried to break in with some data, but he usually seemed content to let Lipnicki ramble. The Like Mike commentary actually appeared more entertaining than it probably sounds, just because the energy of the young actors made it something unusual. However, it didn’t provide much in the way of useful information.

In addition to the commentary, the widescreen side of the disc includes only one supplement: a documentary called Off the Hook and On the Set. It lasts 21 minutes and 40 seconds and provides something a little unusual, as it mostly consists of videotaped footage from the set shot by acting coach Sarah Whalen. Director Schultz and Whalen occasionally narrate the program, and we also get on-set comments from actors Eugene Levy, Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, and Robert Forster, producer Peter Heller, bodyguard Darrell “Big D” Davis, second second assistant director Wayne “Spoon” Witherspoon, stunt coordinator Tierre Turner, basketball consultant Reggie Theus, and Bow’s studio teacher Rhonda Sherman Friedman.

”Hook” provides a fairly entertaining glimpse behind the scenes. It progresses through the production in chronological order and touches on topics like rehearsals, acting exercises, turning the Forum into the Knights’ arena, the NBA All-Star weekend, the painting scene, creating the dunking segments for the kids, and other pieces all the way through post-production elements like ADR and scoring. Nothing tremendously revealing appears, but the show gives us a nicely fresh and fun look at the production. My favorite shot? When Schultz asks a cheerleader if she knows what she needs to do in the scene and she replies she does not. His reply: “cheer”.

Over on the fullscreen side of the disc, we get a few more pieces. The Making Of Like Mike offers a six-minute and 13-second featurette that includes the standard mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from writer Michael Elliott, producers Peter Heller and Barry Josephson, director John Schultz, basketball consultant Reggie Theus, actors Bow Wow and Morris Chestnut, and basketball figures Jason Kidd, Chris Webber, and Pat Croce. A few moments about the problems caused by the extras offered, but mostly the program simply told us about the greatness that is Bow. Everyone praises him and relates how terrific and talented he is. This gets old quickly, and “Making” offers little to make it worthwhile.

Within the Deleted Scenes area, we find three short segments. Presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, these last between 66 seconds and two minutes, 38 seconds for a total of four minutes, 57 seconds of footage. One of these offers additional footage with basketball figures as they discuss their reactions to Calvin, while another shows a cut subplot about a young female TV star Calvin gets to meet. The longest clip simply shows the unedited montage of parents who tried to adopt Calvin. The latter provides some fairly funny material, and all three actually seem surprisingly entertaining given the general blandness of the final film.

One can watch the deleted scenes with or without commentary from director John Schultz. His remarks cover the basic information appropriate to the material, with a logical emphasis on the reasons why he left out the footage.

A few other small bits round out the DVD. We find the music video for “Basketball” by Bow Wow featuring Jermaine Dupri, Fabolous, and Fundisha. During the three minute, 35 second clip, Bow raps and plays ball while we also see some movie clips – yawn! The DVD also tosses in a 17 second music promoplus the trailer for Daredevil.

Like Mike starts with a clever concept but doesn’t do much with it. Instead, the film follows a pretty predictable line and it never becomes anything more than a pedestrian kiddie comedy. The DVD provides slightly erratic but generally very solid picture and sound with a reasonably good collection of supplements. Fans of the film should enjoy this DVD, but I can’t recommend this lackluster movie to anyone else.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5869 Stars Number of Votes: 46
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