Mr. 3000 understands baseball and the men who play it, and, for a
film about the sport, that's half the battle. The other half is crafting
an entertaining story with engaging characters, and, although Mr.
3000 isn't quite as successful in that arena, it is enjoyable enough
to warrant a recommendation. Plus, while it adheres to most of
the expected formulas, it isn't beyond tweaking them a little, which
adds a whiff of the unexpected to the agenda.
chief asset is Bernie Mac. Despite being a well-known comedian (in large
part because of his popular stand-up routines and television show), this
is the first time Mac has had the opportunity to play a leading man in a
major motion picture. Previously, he had been relegated to humorous bit
parts and supporting performances. With Mr. 3000, playing the
title character, Stan Ross, he tears into the opportunity with relish.
Perhaps surprisingly, Mac's most apparent strength in this part is not
his comedic ability, but his dramatic one. He plays Stan like a real
person. That's not to say that he doesn't get laughs, but his character
is only larger than life in the way that players like Barry Bonds and
Gary Sheffield are larger than life. Mac has a lot of charisma, and he's
not afraid to use it.
The movie opens with a prologue in 1995. Stan Ross, a superstar with
the Milwaukee Brewers, has just gotten his 3000th hit, joining an
exclusive club and capping off a stellar career. In typical "me first"
fashion, he charges into the stands to grab the ball from the kid who
caught it, pisses off the media during the post-game interview, and
decides on the spot to quit baseball, leaving his team foundering in the
middle of a pennant race. But for "Mr. 3000," it's okay, because he has
gotten what he wants. Nine years later, his election to the Hall of Fame
seems to be a foregone conclusion until a careful review of his
statistics reveals that three of his hits were counted twice. In
reality, he only has 2997. And, since "Mr. 2997" doesn't have as good a
ring to it as "Mr. 3000," Stan decides to return to the game. The
Brewers, seeing a chance to increase their attendance, welcome back the
47-year old with open arms. The players aren't as overjoyed, viewing the
addition of "Grandpa" to the expanded September roster as a publicity
stunt (which it is). But a surprising thing happens. In his quest to get
three more hits, Stan discovers the concept of "team" and imparts some
wisdom to the Brewers' next potential superstar, T-Rex Pennebaker (Brian
J. White). He also earns the respect of his teammates and re-kindles a
romance with ESPN reporter Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett). But his batting
average remains horrible (around .030) and hit #3000 is elusive.
As you would expect with a movie like this, it all comes down to the
bottom of the ninth in the final game of the season. But, in the end,
it's not about whether Stan gets the big hit, because, by that time, he
has found the path to redemption. Director Charles Stone III (Drumline)
could end the movie with a freeze-frame of Stan at home plate for that
final at-bat and the movie would have as much resonance (of course, he
doesn't do that - the howls of protest would be deafening).
Budweiser's "Leon" commercials mock the modern-day athlete by taking
self-centeredness to its extreme. Sadly, though, those advertisements
aren't as much of a stretch as they initially appear to be. Mr. 3000
also satirizes the "me first" generation of baseball player, but, by
toning down the elements of parody, it hits uncomfortably close to home
for some participants in the sport. For Stan, it's all about money and
numbers. He's more interested in opening a strip mall than in playing
baseball. But he learns a hard lesson and tries his best to pass it on
to the current players. He gets to observe what he was like by gazing
into the mirror that is T-Rex, and he doesn't like what he sees.
All of this probably sounds more serious that the film is. As a
comedy, it offers plenty of laughs, but the humor doesn't obscure Mr.
3000's legitimate points. Some of the jokes are abrasive, but what
else would one expect from Mac? Certainly not soft lobs. And he's a good
enough actor that he doesn't have take refuge in a caricature
constructed out of gags, puns, and pratfalls. By transforming Stan from
a self-absorbed, arrogant jerk into someone who sees the error of his
ways, Mac allows us to get in Stan's corner and root for him. We want
him to get #3000, come through for his team, and connect with Mo.
Questions have been raised about whether this is a suitable family
film. Certainly, the material is mature for a PG-13, with plenty of
profanity and some steamy sexual chemistry between Mac and Angela
Bassett. But, when you consider that movies like Alien Vs. Predator
and Paparazzi have gotten PG-13s, the rating for Mr. 3000
doesn't seem off-base. And this movie has a message and a moral, which
neither of those films can boast.
Baseball fans will be pleased to note that Mr. 3000 does all
the little things right. (Even The Natural, often considered to
be the best baseball movie ever made, cannot boast that.) The actors
look good on the field; Mac looks like he could hit .300. Verisimilitude
is critical in any sports movie, and this one goes all-out in that
department. I don't know whether the role of Stan Ross was written with
Mac in mind, but it's hard to imagine a more perfect fit. Mr. 3000
is a feel-good movie with a little edge, and it's that edge that makes
the clichés bearable. No, this isn't the cinematic equivalent of a home
run, but, at the very least, it's a solid base hit.