The secret to Bernie Mac is in his eyes, how they practically bulge to the point of explosion when he’s bullying or disappear into his face when he’s disappointed.
In Mr. 3000, Mac puts his best features to great use as Stan Ross, a surly first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers who selfishly abandons his team in the midst of a playoff race after earning the milestone hit.
It’s the perfect character in what should be a perfect breakout vehicle for Mac. What a shame that nearly all his work is largely wasted on a script with more flip-flop than a pair of sandals.
Stan’s retirement dreams are met almost a decade later with the success of the Mr. 3000 Shopping Center, where pet stores, Chinese buffets and salons bear his nickname. But as he prepares for Hall of Fame induction, a routine check of his numbers reveals a counting error that puts him three shy of the ideological statistic he’s built an empire around.
Stan makes a return to the cellar-dwelling Brewers to reclaim his title (one of the film’s few admirable moments of sports accuracy). But at age 47, he finds a completely different game, and a different Stan — one who slowly realizes there aren’t a lot of people in his life who actually like him.
Through this idea, the film’s first hour boasts the same sort of thoughtfulness director Charles Stone III brought to his wonderful 2002 film Drumline. Mr. 3000 flirts with addressing some problems with the pursuit of stats — forgetting about character or conviction in the race to get them and the sports media sometimes overlooking that behavior in the wake of home-run headlines.
As funny as Mac is, he impresses also in the reflective moments when Stan is affected by hateful comments and doubt in his quest, spurring him to change his ways.
In Stan’s endeavors to right the ship of his team, the movie gets his change across with acceptably standard clichés involving his teammates.
It’s a sign of how much this is Mac’s show that few of these supporting characters’ quirks draw laughs. Though it seems like a nothing role, the veteran Paul Sorvino proves it’s anything but in one of the film’s best moments.
But the screenplay gets unforgivably lazy in the third act, itself forgetting about character and forcing an absurd plot twist that sends Stan back to his old ways.
It fares even worse with a ridiculous romance between Stan and an old-flame reporter who’s now with ESPN (Angela Bassett). Aside from the idea that any premier cable sports network would ever assign Stan’s former lover to his story, any honesty in the couple’s interaction too often falls by the wayside for a quick joke.
It’s not the only possible positive of Mr. 3000 that gets shortchanged for a chuckle. For a movie that criticizes the media in one hand, its other is peppered with big names like Stuart Scott, Dick Enberg and Tom Arnold for a chuckle of recognition. And any movie that goes to the well twice for a Jay Leno appearance suffers from comedic dehydration.
But for all the things Stone and his screenwriters strike out with, they never leave Mac stranded on base. There has always been accessibility in the star’s abrasiveness. And one bad movie won’t kill the effectiveness of all Mac’s zingers, whether they’re verbal or facial.