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Mr. 3000

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.

Mr. 3000's 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.