In his first leading role, Bernie Mac leaves an indelible impression in the enjoyable, if somewhat corny, Mr. 3000, playing an egocentric baseball legend forced off his pedestal in order to learn some harsh life lessons. Hate when that happens--as it so often does in movies.
Milwaukee Brewers' big swinger Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is a baseball star--a man with big talent, a bigger mouth and an even bigger ego. Nine years ago he achieved legendary status by getting 3,000 base hits and was revered by his fans, but had burned most of the bridges with everyone else, especially when he stuck it to his team by abruptly retiring from the game. No matter. Stan spent years capitalizing on his ''Mr. 3000'' persona, and now is just waiting for his final honor--induction into the Hall of Fame. What he gets instead, however, is a slap in the face when it's discovered that three of his 3,000 hits aren't valid, making him only ''Mr. 2,997.'' To reclaim his record, Stan is forced to return to the field and play once again for his former team and earn those three hits--and it ain't easy. The game has changed, and so has he--pushing 50, Ross is faced with both physical and mental challenges. Not only must he measure up to the new kids on the block, like the Brewers' cocky power hitter T-Rex Pennebaker (Brian White), he also has to contend with less-than-supportive sports journalists, especially his former flame Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett), all of whom remember the lashings they took from invective-spoutin' Stan the Man back in the day. But this time around, something happens to Stan. Now hungry to prove himself, he finds his love for the sport and his team renewed, realizing there is a difference between having a successful life and a meaningful one. See? I told you it was corny.
Bernie Mac is a smart man. Having played smaller but memorable roles in films such as Ocean's Eleven and Bad Santa, Mac has made a wise choice picking Mr. 3000 as his first foray into leading man territory. First of all, Mac actually used to play the game pretty seriously, so you can definitely feel the love, but the character also really suits this king of comedy, emphasizing his gruff sense of humor (the scene in which he tells a group of school children their favorite story character has died just to shut them up is classic Mac), while also showing off some genuine acting chops as the self-centered Stan tries to change his life. Mac can pull off the romantic stuff, too, if you can believe it. He clicks immediately with the always-good Bassett, as the two put on a rather refreshing display of affection, tinged with some obvious history from their shared past. Stan also has a quirky but genuine relationship with his former teammate Boca (as in Boca Raton, Fla., because of his trademark velour jogging suits), played by character actor Michael Rispoli (Death to Smoochy). Boca is Stan's only real and honest friend'; his cryptic refrain ''That's why I love you, man,'' becomes a running gag throughout the film. Other supporting standouts include White (who is actually a former pro-football player) as Stan's arrogant protégé and Paul Sorvino as the Brewers' stoic team manager, who says next to nothing--until it really counts.
Baseball movies always seem to work. There's just something about that all-American pastime that gets moviegoers' emotions stirring--the underdogs; the camaraderie; the jaded ball player; the crack of the bat; the magical home run; the peanut-chomping fans; and of course, the pure love of the game. Director Charles Stone III (Drumline) captures a good deal of that in Mr. 3000, as well as adding some funkiness to the proceedings with his savvy cast and a cool, old time R&B soundtrack (Earth, Wind and Fire gets you grooving every time). Still, there's an inherent problem: We've seen this baseball formula done so many times before, in better movies such as Bull Durham and The Natural. It's also highly predictable that Stan is going not only learn some lessons about life but will also impart that wisdom and inspiration to his younger teammates. Yeah, yeah. Even Stan ends the movie saying, ''Was that corny enough for you?'' It is--but that's why we love it, man.
As far as baseball movies go, Mr. 3000 may not be considered a classic, but spurred on by a powerhouse performance by Bernie Mac, it'll still get you to sing ''Take Me Out to the Ball Game.''