Like Mike

Like Mike (PG)

Kids’ movies about basketball tend to play better in the States where the sport is bigger than football, but I venture this warm-hearted take of love, family and magic will fare equally well in the UK.

Like Mike stars teenage rapper Lil Bow Wow as orphan Calvin Cambridge, who is given a second-hand pair of sneakers that once belonged to basketball legend Michael Jordan.

With the aid of a bolt of lightning the battered shoes take on a magical life of their own, and soon Calvin is transformed into a player of genius, wowing the crowds at the local stadium and bringing him to the attention of the LA Knights, who sign him up.

Within days Calvin, just 13 years old and 4ft 8ins high is showing the giants of the Knights how the game should be played. It helps that he links up with star player Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut) who acts as reluctant mentor, roommate and partner on the basketball court. With MJ’s shoes doing their thing, Calvin is unstoppable.

Taking its inspiration from the Powel/Pressburger classic The Red Shoes, Like Mike is a fascinating children’s film that really does hit all the right buttons. Of course it’s preposterous, but what kids’ film isn’t? And this one is thoroughly charming.

It helps that the child stars can genuinely act, and Lil Bow Wow (who I’d never heard of before seeing him in the movie) is a genuine find. He has the cheek, mischief and rough-edged charm to engage youngsters and adults alike, while Jonathan Lipnicki, from Stuart Little and The Little Vampire, provides able back-up.

There is generous support too from Eugene Levy (the embarrassed dad from the American Pie films), Robert (Jackie Brown) Forster and Crispin Glover as the villain of the piece, a money-grabbing orphanage manager whose performance just stays on the right side of caricature.

Yet, all sentiment aside, Like Mike has a serious message to espouse about loneliness and love. Most heart-rending is the scene when the kids are wheeled out to meet prospective adoptive parents, and the older ones can only watch as babies and toddlers get all the attention. “We’re like dogs,” says one. “Parents only want the puppies.” It’s frank, blunt and only too true.

The sequence is tempered later by another in which Calvin is put up for adoption to a bewildering array of odd couples including two cheesy, warbling actors, a barking soldier and his wife, two spaced-out hippies, a cool Rasta and those annoyingly happy types who seem to frequent hospitals, orphanages and old folks’ homes dispensing smiles and jolly thoughts. And you just want to smack them.

Like Mike, despite its sporty, all-American feel, is a curiously old-fashioned picture that offers a message of tolerance and hope. It’s funny, cringe-worthy, and at times soaked in saccharine, but it tries hard to please without ever being patronising.

Parents will find little to complain about save the occasional language slip and a sequence in which the teenage hero drives his pal’s car. It’s mischievous, not delinquent, and all the better for having the courage to show it.

A lovely little film.

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