Mr. 3000

on September 17, 2004 by Mark Keizer
"Mr. 3000" is a pleasant film in a genre where pleasant just means you're not trying hard enough. Notable for being the first leading role for sitcom star Bernie Mac, the film has very little internal momentum as it ambles along on the strength of some well-realized baseball scenes and the ultimately fruitless hope that Mac will break loose with some serious attitude. Normally, when a baseball comedy gets sentimental, viewers roll their eyes. Here, the film is so bland and only marginally funny that the sentimental scenes are the only interesting ones in the movie.

It is 1995 and Stan Ross, superstar first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, has just gotten his 3,000th hit, an achievement that guarantees baseball immortality and the adulation of fans and players. However, Ross is a world-class jerk who, throughout the years, has alienated the press and his teammates with his me-first attitude. In fact, right after getting his historic hit, with the Brewers in the middle of a pennant race, he retires to start a chain of Mr. 3000 stores. Seven years later, on the eve of his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Ross learns that a statistical error has left him three hits shy of 3,000. So, craving Cooperstown enshrinement, he returns to the Brewers at the ripe old age of 47 to try to get those final three hits.

Upon entering the 21st-century Brewers clubhouse, Stan notices a lot has changed. The athletes do Pilates and recline on plush couches while playing baseball videogames. In a grand old game, Ross is a grand old man. Additionally, he must contend with the new superstar in town, hotshot home run hitter T-Rex Pennebaker (ex-New England Patriot Brian White). Further complicating matters is Mo (Angela Bassett), Ross's old flame and a reporter for ESPN (a network that gets plenty of facetime in this Disney film). Don't be shocked, but the self-centered slugger will learn to become a team player while struggling to win Mo back and get those magic three hits. At least writers Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell and Howard Michael Gould make the inspirational medicine go down easy, as the lessons are pillowed with light humor and Mac's smooth presence.

"Mr. 3000" has moments: In a cinema environment that worships youth, it's nice to see Mac and Bassett, two fortysomethings, as the center of a comedy. Director Charles Stone III ("Drumline") does well in the baseball scenes, placing the camera in spots that make the action look real, with shot composition and crane moves that are unique for baseball movies. Off the field, he gives us one great shot: At a low point, Stan sits at home watching the hosts of Fox Sports' "Best Damn Sports Show Period" rip him apart. Then, using cinematic sleight-of-hand, the hosts appear on his couch, literally getting into his head.

That being said, Stone isn't skilled enough to conquer what would seem to be the easiest part of his job: making the baseball scenes thrilling. A player going for his 3,000th hit in his final at-bat should have made the hairs on our necks stand at attention. But he just can't convey the proper level of excitement, and the undistinguished score by John Powell doesn't help. Indeed, baseball movies always come down to the last at-bat, and "Mr. 3000," which had, up to that point, done nothing to exceed our expectations, fails to exceed our expectations. The same exact play with the same exact outcome was the climax of another baseball movie.

The supporting actors all perform ably (including a nearly wordless turn from Paul Sorvino) but in the end, of course, it's all about Bernie Mac. He can verbally stab you in the back as well as anyone, but there's a cuddly detachment to his venom that makes him hilarious in small doses, which is to say, supporting roles. Films like last year's "Bad Santa" and 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" fit his persona much better. Here, he's been handed a part that doesn't play to his strengths and, at this point in his career, he's not ready to topline a film that hinges on sentiment and a hard-earned change of heart. It just isn't in Mac's wheelhouse...yet. Despite that, he's still a kick to watch--a breezy and welcome presence in a film that would be nothing without him. If "Mr. 3000" fails to herald Mac's arrival as a leading man, it does confirm that, in his quest for cinema stardom, he's rounding third and heading for home. Starring Bernie Mac, Angela Bassett, Brian White and Paul Sorvino. Directed by Charles Stone III. Written by Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell and Howard Michael Gould. Produced by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Maggie Wilde. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Running time: 104 min

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