Like Mike

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Like Mike

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Like Mike

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Weirdly earnest and earnestly weird, Like Mike marks the starring debut of pint-sized rap sensation Lil' Bow Wow, who puts his puppy-dog eyes to good use playing the most put-upon orphan this side of Oliver Twist. A strangely endearing mixture of newfangled cross-marketing and old-fashioned hokum, Like Mike casts Bow Wow as an aspiring basketball player who toils away his evenings selling candy for evil child-care worker Crispin Glover, a road-show Fagin with a cash register where his heart should be. Bow Wow's luck changes for the better, however, after he comes into possession of a pair of magical, lighting-enhanced basketball shoes once worn by Michael Jordan. Suddenly blessed with the sort of basketball skills generally possessed only by freakishly tall adults and the occasional overachieving golden retriever, Bow Wow soon makes it to the NBA, where he warms the heart of teammate Morris Chestnut. The always-terrific Robert Forster plays Bow Wow's other kindly father figure, and together he and Glover help turn what easily could have been a slick, forgettable kids' film into something richer and stranger. Glover's creepy intensity and Forster's folksy dignity go a long way toward setting Like Mike apart from its more formulaic peers, and the actors are assisted by an engagingly off-kilter script. Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet's screenplay hits many of the expected notes, but the writers seem to have learned everything they know about orphanages from Annie. With its evil taskmaster, doe-eyed kids, beefy resident bully, and sassy-but-saintly house nun (Anne Meara), Bow Wow's orphanage seems like a relic from a bygone era: It could just as easily house the Bowery Boys. Similarly, while the film's climax features the obligatory big game, it also includes such novel features as a furious chase on scooters, a high-risk gamble, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Glover terrorize tow-headed Meego star Jonathan Lipnicki, who seems to grow younger each year. Like Mike isn't particularly good, but it's far better than it has any right to be.

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