Bernie Mac is the kind of comedic actor who can genuinely envelop himself in a character while still being his own distinctively hilarious self. He is not a one-note caricature clown like Jack Black, Rob Schneider, Chris Kattan, David Spade, Mike Myers or Martin Lawrence.
In "Mr. 3000," he proves it by laying down a lot of subtle psychological nuance as egotistical Milwaukee Brewers superstar Stan Ross, a talented slugger who quit baseball and left his playoff-bound team in a lurch the moment he hit the 3000th run he thought would guarantee him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But nine years later he's still never gotten close to being voted into Cooperstown because, well, he hacked off virtually everybody on his way up. And what's worse, he's recently been stripped of three runs awarded him in error, leaving the out-of-shape 47-year-old short of the milestone he's milked as his legacy since retirement. Ross's "Mr. 3000" sports bar anchors an entire "Mr. 3000"-themed strip mall, so he'll be damned if being over the hill athletically is going to keep him from rejoining the team (which he calls "a bunch of Little Leaguers") to earn back those three hits.
But boy, is he in for a healthy helping of humble pie.
Directed by Charles Stone III ("Drumline," "Paid in Full"), a man with a talent for turning gimmicky screenplays into good movies, "Mr. 3000" follows an obvious story arch as Ross becomes the laughing stock of TV sports show (with anchors doing cameos as themselves) before belatedly discovering his team spirit and a truly palpable love of the game. The plot even trips over a few contrived elements, like the unmotivated re-emergence of Ross's ego in the third act, just for the sake of having tension to resolve (not to mention the fact that our creaky hero plays First Base -- a position no manager would ever assign to his weakest player).
But Stone's creativity behind the camera (he transports the pundits of "The Best Damn Sports Show" right through Ross's TV and into his living room to symbolize how much their mockery is getting to him) counteracts the movie's more taxing elements, and Mac works his acerbic on-screen charisma in a way that also reveals the abundantly boastful guy's underlying nervousness about returning to the game. He also nails Ross's loneliness, which really hits home when he's faced with an old flame who won't take any of his guff -- an ESPN reporter played by the sharp, wry, sexy, spectacular Angela Bassett.
Through it all, Mac is familiarly sly and hilariously sharp-tongued. But the film's best laughs actually come from imaginative incidentals, like the team's wickedly taunting mascot who harangues our hero mercilessly, a Japanese player who malaprops all his curse words, the film's subversive commentary on how videogame contracts have turned ballplayers into even bigger showboats, and the well-timed comical cut-away to the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Baseball Bugs."
Such moments help distance "Mr. 3000" from its formula, which handled badly would have made for a real stinker. The movie may not rank in the Hall of Fame for baseball flicks, but Stone and his star do honor to the heart of the game, and provide enough comedy curve balls to stay above the fray of the encroaching clichés.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th September 2004
Box Office USA: $21.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $21.8M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 61 Rotten: 51
IMDB: 5.5 / 10
Director: Charles Stone III
Starring: Bernie Mac as Stan Ross, Angela Bassett as Maureen "Mo" Simmons, Michael Rispoli as Boca, Brian J. White as Rex 'T-Rex' Pennebaker, Dondre Whitfield as Skillet, Paul Sorvino as Gus Panas, Tom Arnold as Tom Arnold, Dane Cook as Sausage Mascot
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