Here's a prime example of why not all TV stars shine as brightly as others on the big screen. Through no discernible fault of his own, Bernie Mac never quite catches fire in 2004's baseball comedy "Mr. 3000."
Mac stars as Stan Ross, a former baseball player who thinks he's earned his right to Cooperstown by getting 3,000 base hits before he retired ten years earlier. But, shock of shocks, a decade later he suddenly learns that three of his hits don't count. He's only got 2,997! Which is not only a blow to his ego and an obstacle to his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it's an endangerment to the financial status of his "3000" sports bar, his "3000" hair salon, his "3000" cellular phone store, his "3000" pet shop, his "3000" Chinese restaurant, and his "Mr. 3000" mini-mall. Well, there's nothing else for it; he's got to go back into the game after ten years away and get those final three digits added to his lifetime total.
Beyond the basic premise, there isn't very much else in the film you wouldn't figure on well in advance. Needless to say, we see an out-of-shape Stan trying to get fit again to play for his old team, the Milwaukee Brewers, with less than hilarious results. We see him striving to cope with his new teammates, most of whom were Little Leaguers when Stan was in his prime and didn't like him any better back then. They call him "gramps" and offer him a walker to get around. We see Stan coping with the other players, especially with a new, young slugger, "T-Rex" Pennebaker (Brian J. White), who considers Stan a washed-up has-been. We see Stan attempting to get back together with his old girlfriend, Maureen "Mo" Simmons (Angela Bassett), an ESPN sports reporter who thinks Stan is still as conceited and self-serving as ever. And we see Stan being pampered by the club president, Mr. Schiembri (Chris Noth), who only wants Stan on the team as an eccentric crowd draw. Everything you would expect to happen happens. Even unto Stan's Scrooge-like conversion to decency by the end of the picture. Like all hackneyed sports stories, this one comes down to the very last game of the season, where Stan learns the value of teamwork. What? You didn't guess?
Ironically, the film's biggest drawback is Mac's character itself. I say "ironically" because Bernie Mac has the potential for being one of the nicest on-screen personas you could find. Yet in "Mr. 3000" he plays one of the most unengaging characters imaginable. Stan Ross is an egotistical maniac, so arrogant that practically nobody likes him. When he gets his presumed 3000th hit, an opposing ballplayer throws it into the stands where it's grabbed by a kid. Stan goes after the ball, ripping it out of the youngster's hands, offering him no compensation for it. Stan argues with everyone, and everyone hates him--rival ballplayers, the fans, the press, even his own teammates. Just as soon as he gets that supposed 3000th career hit, he retires--in mid season. He's only in it for himself. As he puts it, he doesn't need the fans or the game; he's "a living legend, a certified immortal.... You love me because I'm one of the greatest hitters alive."
It's hard to care about someone so unlikable as Stan Ross. Moreover, it's hard to care about a movie that wastes so much talent, not only Mac's. Angela Bassett was an Oscar nominee for "What's Love Got To Do With It" and an award winner for any number of other serious films. Here, she barely has a part we remember for two minutes after the picture is over. What was she thinking? Well, at least it wasn't "Catwoman." Michael Rispoli as Stan's one and only friend, Anthony "Boca" Carter, is equally adrift in a part that has him only nodding in agreement most of the time. Perhaps worst of all is the casting of Paul Sorvino as the team manager, Gus Panas, a fellow who spends 99.99% of the movie remaining expressionless and saying absolutely nothing. I'm assuming this was supposed to be some kind of a joke. It eluded me.
In order to infuse some semblance of reality (and life) into the situation, the filmmakers use a boatload of real-life celebrities and personalities throughout the film, people like Larry King, Tom Arnold, and Jay Leno. It's a well-worn gimmick, but it doesn't add much. Likewise, a range of product placements don't help, either. With endorsements from Reebok, Electronic Arts (EA Sports), ESPN, and Viagra among others, the producers could have (and may have) financed the whole film.
It's hard to pinpoint just what genre of movie the filmmakers were striving to create when they made "Mr. 3000." It's ostensibly a comedy, but it's so lightly humorous, there are virtually no laughs in it. It borders on the romantic but not enough to call it a romance or even a romantic comedy. And it's set in the milieu of a sport without really being a sports movie. Maybe it's a light, humorous, slightly romantic, sort-of sports drama. Maybe, too, it's that very indecisiveness in what the movie wants to be that turns it into such a no hitter.
For a new movie, the video quality is mediocre at best. The widescreen dimensions measure a ratio approximately 1.75:1 anamorphic across my standard-screen HD television, an average transfer size for a 1.85:1-ratio theatrical release. The colors are bright to the point of gaudiness in many scenes and not too well defined. The picture sometimes looks too dark and too glassy, the hues oversaturated, with a small degree of bleed-through and haloing. In its favor, the image is quite clean and free of grain, but it hardly seems like ample compensation.
It's hard to knock the English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, which is also available in DTS 5.1. It is as clear and crisp and dynamic as it could be in the front channels. It's just that there doesn't seem to be much use of the rear channels, not even for musical reverberation, nor is there a very wide frequency spectrum in evidence. Most of the movie is dialogue driven, so the relative lack of surround information is not a great loss, but, still, it seems like an opportunity missed.
There is a clutch of brief bonus items on the disc, none of which add up to a whole lot that is worth seeing or hearing once, let alone twice. Things start with the expected audio commentary with the director, Charles Stone III, whose attitude in the first fifteen or twenty minutes (which is all I had time to listen to) varied from quite pleasant to mildly annoying. Next, there's a promotional featurette, "The Making of Mr. 3000," about fifteen minutes of the cast and crew praising the film. After that is a ten-minute featurette titled "Spring Training: The Extra's Journey," which shows us the casting of extras as ballplayers, not the most thrilling material for a supplement. Then, there's a three-minute segment that is kind of cute called "Everybody Loves Stan" in which real ballplayers and commentators go on camera pretending to hate poor Stan. Perhaps the best item, though, is a series of three extended scenes including "SportsCenter," "The Tonight Show," and the "Mr. 3000" mini-mall commercial. There are flashes of genuine humor to be found in them. In addition, there are three deleted scenes with optional director commentary; three minutes' worth of outtakes; and Sneak Peeks at three other Buena Vista titles, plus ESPN. ESPN? They must have underwritten the movie. The extras conclude with twelve scene selections (I don't know why the folks at BV continue to be so stingy with their scene selections); a chapter insert listing all twelve scenes; English and French spoken languages; and French and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired.
"Mr. 3000" is a slight, generally harmless piece of fluff, and Mac is still a charming guy even when he's playing a supremely unappealing egotist like Stan Ross. But it's all so predictable and vacuous, I can think of no compelling reason for anyone but a confirmed Bernie Mac fan wanting to watch it. I was already pretty much out of this ball game just a few innings in.