Call me a sap if you like, but I think MR. 3000 tells a beautiful story. Predictable? Maybe. Cliched? Possibly. And yet, it's so well-written and directed, so vividly acted, and so attentive to characters rather than to attending to carrying out a sports-movie formula, that I never FELT that the movie was musty or cliched. The whole thing feels fresh. It's also funny and, in the end, rather touching.
MR. 3000 is basically about a selfish man's comeuppance. After getting his 3000th hit, Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) decides to rest on his laurels and retire from baseball---even as his team, the Milwaukee Brewers, is in the midst of playoff contention. Nine years later, Ross finds out that he didn't have his 3000 hits after all; a counting error caused a few hits to count more than once, and he really had only 2997 when he retired. His pride having taken a beating, he decides to return to baseball to get his final three hits...and, in the process, grows up a little from the selfish man he was in the past.
It's a plot that doesn't sound all that fresh on paper. But there's no anticipating the depth that the screenwriters, director Charles Stone III, and Bernie Mac bring to the character of Stan Ross. Ross could have been made into a caricature of arrogance, a painfully funny stick figure of a character off of whom easy satirical points could have been scored. But the Ross of MR. 3000 is disarmingly likable in spite of his (hilarious) flaws, because you realize that, despite his me-first nature, he really does love the game of baseball, and understands how it works. It is with this understanding that he becomes a mentor of sorts to the new Brewers team he joins: a group of self-satisfied, self-absorbed players who seem to care little about the game itself (and their indifference is reflected in their cellar-dwelling status in their league). In one scene, Ross sees a faintly disturbing reflection of his old self in T-Rex (Brian J. White), and, as T-Rex is about to get into his car, Ross stops him and advises him on the virtues of becoming a forceful team leader, one who can encourage the highest level of play from the team. Ross has clearly seen enough to know what makes for a winning team, and that is what makes Ross an admirable character regardless of his inflated ego.
But, of course, at that point of the movie, you might be thinking that he's being a little hypocritical, telling a teammate to act like a team leader when he himself hasn't shown a great deal of similar unselfish attributes. It is precisely that kind of character complexity and nuance that makes MR. 3000 stand out from the usual standard sports-movie ilk, with its comic caricatures and by-the-numbers plots. The film doesn't take a mechanical approach to Stan Ross' change of heart. When Hit No. 3000 looms on the horizon for him, Ross decides to call for an extra team practice...only to blow it off himself in order to appear on Jay Leno. He still can't resist the lure of his own ego, even as he selflessly inspires his team to try to at least go down fighting.
Stan Ross is a character that has been sensitively written by its three credited writers (Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell, and Howard Michael Gould), but of course it's up to the actor to bring a character to life, and Bernie Mac comes through with a performance that is better than anyone had a right to expect from a man whose first leading role this is. Whereas another actor might have gone for psychological depth in portraying Ross' selfishness, Mac makes it light and funny. But Mac does achieve some real moments of emotional gravitas, moments in which one can sense, looking at Mac's expressive face at certain moments, that Ross' anxiety and fear about losing his hard-fought legacy loom in his head. It's a charming, beautifully-shaded, marvelous performance, and for all the hype Jamie Foxx garnered for his Ray Charles interpretation in RAY, Bernie Mac's may actually be superior in its emotional impact. Seriously.
Director Charles Stone III keeps everything light, fresh and above all honest; this movie, which could easily have given into Hollywood-style bathos, never becomes overly sentimental with its change-of-heart story. Instead, it is emotionally convincing every step of the way. Stone---as well as the script, of course---also shows an awareness of the realities of the game of baseball today: how pro athletes can sometimes be less than serious about the game they're playing, how baseball owners can sometimes be concerned only about drawing in crowds, how sensitive media members can be when a player treats them less than respectfully, etc. You can see how a focused player like Stan Ross could be considered a refreshing and even uplifting presence in the midst of such cynicism. Thankfully, the movie itself never becomes merely cynical: even as it takes some sharp jabs at baseball as it is run today, there is always that faint recognition of truth that makes for an enriching movie.
By the end of MR. 3000, the movie inevitably comes down to a last-ditch effort in the bottom of the 9th inning in a tie game. And eventually Stan Ross gets redemption---but not the kind of redemption he necessarily expects. It's perhaps not as surprising an ending as the filmmakers clearly want it to be; still, it is a beautifully fitting ending, one that puts a capper on a surprisingly better-than-average sports movie. Call me sentimental, but I found MR. 3000 touching. Recommended.