Squeaky-clean 'Like Mike' will fly with kids

In "Like Mike," a pair of sneakers become the preteen-boy equivalent of Dorothy's ruby slippers: With them on his feet, young Calvin Cambridge (teen hip-hop star Lil Bow Wow) can play basketball like a miniature, winged version of his idol Michael Jordan. On court, Calvin flies through the air, merrily slam-dunking; off-court, he even gets to order room service and have a paint fight with an NBA star. Just your basic sports fantasy, kid-sized.

And it's all pretty sweet, thanks to a winningly low-key performance by young, er, Wow. The screenplay does saddle Calvin with plenty of melodrama — he's an orphan, living in a grim group home run by a money-grubbing creep (Crispin Glover, looking nastily malnourished), when the NBA comes looking for him. But "Like Mike," at its heart, is the story of a kid you want to root for, and Lil Bow Wow, with his easy grin, is immensely likable in his screen debut. (The same cannot be said for his co-star Jonathan Lipnicki, the kid from "Jerry Maguire," who's now 11 but still has the cutesy mannerisms of a 5-year-old. But he's easily ignored.)

Morris Chestnut is warm and charming as Calvin's NBA roommate and surrogate father figure, and numerous NBA stars (including the Sonics' Gary Payton) make cameos. At times the film seems like a big NBA commercial, which in essence I suppose it is — "Like Mike" is a production of NBA Entertainment, thus explaining the prominent display of "nba.com" in a key scene.

Like all fairy tales, "Like Mike" has a picture-perfect happy ending; indeed, every conflict is resolved with breathless speed (often at the expense of believability). But that's OK; this is a squeaky-clean, warmhearted movie parents can send kids to without worries. "Like Mike" is about dealing with your fears, remembering to wear your seatbelt, and believing that dreams can come true — a nice message, even with product placement.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

"Like Mike"

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With Lil Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Crispin Glover, Anne Meara, Robert Forster, Eugene Levy. Directed by John Schultz, from a screenplay by Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet. 100 minutes. Rated PG for brief mild language. Several theaters.