Bernie Mac scores hit in spite of formulaic plotline

“Mr. 3000” builds a quietly affecting motion picture from one of the most contrived premises ever to hit the silver screen. This near-miraculous feat is due, in no small part, to the wise and funny performance of lead Bernie Mac.

Mac stars as Stan Ross, one of those creeps who we only come across in movies. He’s a baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers who retires after his 3,000th career hit. He is also low enough to climb into the stands and steal the ball out from the hands of the child who caught it. After the hit, Stan promptly retires from baseball in the middle of the season, leaving his team without its star player.

Jumping ahead nine years, Ross is the owner of a “Mr. 3000” sports bar and strip mall and is waiting for the day when he will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. That day does not seem to be coming any time soon and seems unlikely to come at all when it is discovered that Ross was credited with hitting that 3,000th run only through a technicality. Three of his hits were somehow counted twice, leaving Stan without the right to call himself “Mr. 3000.” Somehow, “Mr. 2,997” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

What ensues is clich?, to say the least. Ross returns to the Major Leagues in order to regain his trademark moniker, only to find that the nature of the game has changed in the past nine years. He is given a practically mute coach (Paul Sorvino, who played Pauley in “Goodfellas”) and some smart-aleck teammates. The movie has several funny scenes, the funniest involving a walking mascot sausage who constantly taunts Old Man Ross. The screenplay even throws in an ex-girlfriend sports reporter (Angela Bassett) whose assignment it is to follow Ross’ struggle in getting those last three runs. And, of course, Ross has to learn a few lessons about humility along the way.

All of this is formulaic, but formulas were established because sometimes they work. This is one of those occasions. Mac gives the audience an antihero for whom it really cares. The film never derides its main character, as so many of today’s more ironic comedies do. Ross is an egomaniac, but never for a moment does it seem he truly revels in being such a creep. He wants to change and the audience really roots for him to do so.

This is thanks to the performance of Mac, whose humor would be too bitter if it didn’t have that extra edge of truth to it. As evident in Mac’s television series and his stand-up comedy routine, he is a comedian who uses real emotions and situations to make his audience laugh. That sense of realness in the character is what transcends all that is mundane and formulaic in “Mr. 3000.”

While “Mr. 3000” may not turn the comedy genre on it’s head, it does have a main character worth rooting for. In today’s cinema, that’s an accomplishment.