There is something undeniably heartening about being pleasantly surprised by a film, especially when was feeling particularly dubious going in. Thus it is with MR 3000, a sweet and funny film that avoids being saccharine, stupid, or over-burdened with schtick. This isnt to say that what we have here is a classic, but its far from the mindless drivel that the trailer might lead one to believe it is, either.
The success of the film falls squarely on the shoulders of its star, Bernie Mac, a stand-up comedian with his very own eponymous and successful sitcom in which he plays himself. Mac has presence that brings a palpable and infectious sense of how much he enjoys being himself, even when the character he plays is less than sympathetic.
That would be Stan Ross, star of the Milwaukee Brewers and smug narcissist who has parlayed that persona into lucrative endorsements that play it up, as well as into the enmity of pretty much everyone who knows him. Not that he cares. Hes the league leader in hits who, after making number 3000 in 1995, and assuring himself a place in the history books and the hall of fame, abruptly quits the team during the pennant playoffs. Nine years later, proud owner of a strip mall that enshrines his achievement with such establishments as a Chinese restaurant named 3000 Woks, hes still waiting. Its going to be a long wait. It seems that there was an error in the stats all those years ago and instead of 3000 hits, hes only chalked up 2997, a fact that will not only impinge on the theme of his strip mall, but will also allow the antipathy that the sportswriters who vote for these things to keep him out of the Hall of Fame forever. Fortunately for Stan, his old team is not pulling in the fans, inspiring the owner (Chris Noth), to use the gimmick of putting Stan back on the team for another shot at the 3000 in order to draw the crowds.
The story line, which has an unexpectedly nuanced and bittersweet subtext about the autumn years, runs pretty much by the numbers. Cocky ex-jock gets another shot, sees himself in a younger hot-shot player, learns a few things and then fade to black. Instead of going for the obvious jokes or pat situations, though, theres a fair attempt at actually developing Stan as a real character and in the Mac mans hands, it works. Sure, theres the set-piece of Stan suffering in the gym trying to get back into shape, but theres more to him that a crack sense of timing or a dead-on reaction shot. Behind the heavy-lidded eyes and the self-pleased swagger, theres the hint of a lifetime lived not well but certainly fully. It makes the entirely predictable love story with feisty ESPN eye-candy, Angela Basset, palatable.
The requisite stock supporting characters, the Japanese guy who never learned to swear properly in English, and the bickering second basemen and shortstop for a light distraction, show little imagination. The best of them, though, is a soulful Michael Rispoli as Stans ex-teammate and only friend. Exclusively sporting velour sweats, the result of an endorsement from his ball-playing days, hes Stans quiet conscience, telling him what he ought to hear, but not so Stan actually notices.
MR 3000 wont, youll pardon the phrase, break any records. It does its job competently and you don’t have to be a sports fan to warm up to it. The best thing about it is, undoubtedly, that it gives the Mac man a chance to strut his stuff while proving that he can carry a film.