Like Mike Review
In a world already overpopulated with kiddie sports movies, along comes another in the shape of Like Mike. The story of an orphan who becomes a basketball superstar owing to some magic sneakers, the film marks the film debut of boy rapper (and Snoop Dogg protege) Lil Bow Wow. Surprisingly for someone already thrown into spotlight, the child actor proves to be a likeable screen presence, and is ably backed up by Stuart Little star Jonathan Lipnicki. Unfortunately, these two pre-teens are the only saving graces to Like Mike; the film offers plenty of flaws elsewhere.
The main problem is that Like Mike isn’t wholly sure as to what kind of film it’s trying to be. It attempts to blend comedy, drama and fantasy, yet there is little conviction in any of those departments. Surprisingly the filmmakers’ pay little attention to the fantasy element. Once the central concept is in play, it is rarely referred to again; allowing the comic and dramatic aspects more focus. The comedy, however, is too often broad and laboured in the extreme, inviting us to laugh at Lil Bow Wow doing his homework or driving a car, for example. Similarly the drama tries to hit a number of bases, fails and just resorts to sentimentality. Certainly, the orphan angle could have provided a moment or two of pathos, though when a film is as rigidly by-the-numbers as Like Mike, there is no question of how things are going to end up, and therefore no dramatic tension.
More damaging is the way Like Mike collects a number of underrated actors and gives them little to do. Being so formulaic, the film simply divides the characters into either purely good or purely evil, and with such one-dimensional characters these actors have little to work with. To their credit, the likes of Eugene Levy, Crispin Glover and Robert Forster have enough experience in films both good and bad to allow them to still provide a little entertainment, though the question still remains: would you rather watch them do quality work in great films (Best in Show, River’s Edge, Jackie Brown) or terrible ones?
Sadly, the presence of these actors is the only concession the filmmakers’ make to the adult audience. Since the early eighties, Disney and other companies have made the effort to attract a larger audience to what was traditionally seen as the “children’s film”, producing films such as Toy Story, The Emperor’s New Groove and Spy Kids which provide a more subtle strain of humour and greater dramatic weight. Whilst I’m not expecting Like Mike to match such basketball films as William Friedkin’s underrated Blue Chips or even Steve Jones’ Hoop Dreams documentary, I was certainly hoping that it would provide more than its negligible pleasures.
Picture and Sound
For such a recent release, the DVD unsurprisingly offers excellent visuals. Being a children’s film, director John Schultz has favoured a bright palette and the disc copes perfectly well, presenting no problems.
Likewise, the 5.1 sound mix ably copes with the hip-hop soundtrack, but never allows it to overbalance the dialogue. Indeed it remains perfectly audible throughout.
Unsurprisingly, the DVD is aimed squarely at the younger members of the audience. The commentary features the two child leads and the director, though sadly they have little of note to say. Moreover, their chat (Schultz merely serves as a prompt for the child actors’ recollections and thoughts) tails off about the midway mark, and often simply describes what is occurring on-screen. Interestingly, Lil Bow Wow leaves the commentary after an hour, surely a first!
There is a similar lack of information in the two featurettes. The first, a six minute “making of”, discusses Lil Bow Wow’s basketball skills, and the second, a compilation of video footage shot by the casting director, consists solely of the young cast arsing about for twenty minutes.
Also provided are three uninteresting deleted scenes (director Schultz explains in his optional commentary that they were dropped for time issues), a Lil Bow Wow music video and a promo for the soundtrack.
All extras (including commentary) offer English subtitles.
Obviously I’m not in a position to give a child’s viewpoint on the film or the disc (both of which are aimed entirely at this audience), though my adult opinion is simply that this is a lacklustre film released on a poor disc. Even those tempted by the appearances of some fine actors are advised to stay away.