The Bernie Mac of the irresistible "Mr. 3000" is not the Bernie Mac of "The Original Kings of Comedy" or even "Bad Santa." Be assured that he is very funny as an egotistical vintage baseball star attempting a comeback. But he also shows some range and resonance, and Bernie Mac is not even the whole show here. Director Charles Stone III and writers Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell and Howard Michael Gould have reconfigured a sports movie plot to bring to it depth as well as laughter, and, better yet, made it unpredictable. These filmmakers don't shy away from unabashed sentiment, and they have a sturdy enough sense of how to shape a mainstream movie to sustain it.
In 1995 in the middle of a pennant race, Milwaukee Brewer star slugger Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) gets his 3,000th hit and abruptly announces his retirement, secure of his place in the record books. Stan is a loud, smart-mouthed, unbridled egotist, which amuses his adoring fans — and inspires deep loathing among his teammates. Upon retirement he builds a Milwaukee shopping mall anchored by his restaurant, which has become his hangout. But just as he is about to make it into baseball's Hall of Fame, a review of his hitting record reveals the awful truth: Mr. 3000 is actually only Mr. 2997! What recourse has a man whose identity is wrapped up in being able to call himself Mr. 3000 but to attempt a comeback at age 47 to rack up three more hits?
The fun — and the pathos — begins in earnest. To come even within striking distance of his goal, Stan has got to eat a bakery's worth of humble pies, and in the process he discovers there may be something to being a team player instead of a self-involved loner. Meanwhile, Stan's quest is, of course, a big sports news story, and ESPN has sent ace reporter Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett) to Milwaukee to cover it.
As it happens, Stan and Mo once had a fling, and it was more special than either wants to admit. The spark is still there, but these two are been-there, done-that adults, and their skirmishing is assured as they calculate just how vulnerable they want to allow themselves to be to each other, with Mo having good reason to be wary of getting involved with Stan all over again. The sleek, beautiful Bassett brings nuance and complexity to Mo, and Bassett's wit brings out an attractive drollery in Mac. Paul Sorvino makes a strong impression as the Brewers' veteran manager, still bitter at Stan's leaving the team in the lurch nine years earlier, as do Chris Noth as the Brewers' suavely manipulative general manager, Michael Rispoli as Stan's former teammate and only friend, loyal yet clear-eyed, and Brian White as the Brewers' current star player.
"Mr. 3000" is good-looking and smooth, with a great soundtrack that communicates just how intoxicating the roar of the crowd can be to an athlete. But it's more than the expected gleaming Hollywood production. The movie's images of Stan grappling with his destiny all alone are at once easy to identify with and hard to shake off.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Times guidelines: Suitable family fare
Bernie Mac...Stan Ross
Angela Bassett...Maureen "Mo" Simmons
Paul Sorvino...Gus Panas
Brian White...T-Rex Pennebaker
A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Touchstone Pictures and Dimension Films presentation of a Barber and Birnbaum/Kennedy/Marshall production. Director Charles Stone III. Producers Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Maggie Wilde. Executive producers Jonathan Glickman, Frank Marshall, Steven Greener, Timothy M. Bourne. Screenplay by Eric Champnella & Keith Mitchell and Howard Michael Gould; from a story by Champnella & Mitchell. Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut. Editor Bill Pankow. Music John Powell. Costumes Salvador Perez. Production designer Maher Ahmad. Art director (New Orleans) Monroe Kelly. Art director (Milwaukee) Austin Gorg. Set decorator Diane Lederman. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
In general release.