A formula must be adhered to in the fantasy world of sports movies.
The game in question, be it baseball, basketball or competitive tiddlywinks, must be used as a metaphor for a character's journey; any crisis can only be resolved in the final seconds, the last inning or the final down; and, unless named Balboa, the protagonist always ends up on the winning team.
Mr. 3000, comedian Bernie Mac's baseball comedy, is no exception: Its outcome is preordained before the opening credits conclude. However, to its credit, it manages to find new, interesting ways to take an audience on its expected journey.
Mr. Mac plays Stan Ross, a talented but callous player who is unaware of, or willing to ignore, social graces. On the evening he belts his historic 3,000th hit, Ross quits the game, assuming his place in the Hall of Fame is a lock.
Ten years later, a statistician discovers that three of those hits don't count and, well, Mr. 3000 might have been a lock, but the prickly Mr. 2,997 doesn't stand a chance. Which brings the quite retired Ross back to the bench.
The comedy is predictable. Sequences of a 47-year-old former athlete trying to recapture his youth, the inevitable understanding that baseball is a team sport and the rekindling of a long-dormant romance are all mined for expected laughs. Yet Mr. 3000 works. While credit must be given to the filmmakers who manage to find a formulaic finale that hasn't been beaten to death, much of the responsibility fell on, and was ably handled, by Mr. Mac.
His Stan Ross is the sports hero people love to hate, a Ty Cobb, Albert Belle or Barry Bonds. He sees his baseball career as just that, a career, a job, a means to an economic end. It's the sort of character that could easily disenfranchise an audience. After all, who can care about a protagonist without any evident redeemable characteristics. Mr. Mac manages to play him with a confident charisma.
Early sequences show a shallow and selfish soul, but Mr. Mac infuses just enough charm, just enough humor into the performance to keep an audience on the hook until redemption arrives.
Mr. 3000 is not without flaws. The story, which should arc in a smooth series of scenes that build off one another, often moves in stops and starts. There's a jaggedness to the plot progression that often leaves the viewer wondering where characters are in terms of their personal journeys. It's never a surprise to discover that Mr. Mac's Stan Ross has learned an important life lesson, it's just sometimes confusing as to how he has gotten there.
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Title: Mr. 3000 (Buena Vista Home Video, $29.99)the verdict: * * * out of * * * * *
DVD EXTRAS: A movie that takes its baseball seriously, Mr. 3000 cast ballplayers who might be able to act to fill the field in the game sequences. The most interesting features on the DVD detail how those players were cast and how the filmmakers transformed professional actors into a facsimile of true gamers.