THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"MR. 3000"

The first rule of sports movies is this: the story has to be about more than just sports. If it’s only about the sport, the audience might as well stay home and watch ESPN. A good sports movie – one that is about the people and the ideas – will appeal even to those who don’t like the sport in question. As for me…well, I probably have less interest in sports than anyone you will ever meet. People and ideas, though – that’s something I can get into.

Mr. 3000 is an example of how to do it the right way, more or less. Bernie Mac stars as Stan Ross, a narcissistic baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers. Stan’s grandstanding and lack of humility irks his teammates. Not that Stan cares, though; he’s closing in on his 3000th hit, making him a sure thing for the Hall of Fame. That induction doesn’t come, however, as the sports reporters don’t care for Stan any more than his colleagues do. When he finally does get nominated – nine years later – an accounting shows that three of his career hits were counted twice, technically making him Mr. 2,997.

Determined to earn the induction he thinks is owed him, Stan decides to return to the team in search of those three remaining hits. The team manager, Schiembri (Chris Noth), lets Stan play in a bid to boost attendance. The problem is that Stan is older, out of shape, and out of practice. His new, younger teammates make fun of him, even going so far as to place a walker next to his locker. Not even Stan’s on-again/off-again flame, ESPN reporter Maureen (Angela Bassett), thinks he can do it. As he racks up one strike-out after another, Stan’s ego begins to shrink and a reassessment of his values begins.

In essence, this is what Mr. 3000 is about. Stan’s career is marked by overconfidence. He flaunts his abilities in front of others, making enemies along the way. Eventually a time comes when he realizes his bluster was all about nothing. He may have been great once, but he’s not great now and he’s got little else to show for it in life. In a time when so many of our star athletes seem to have gargantuan egos, it’s nice to see a story about a jock whose rocket comes crashing back to earth.

That is not to say that the film glorifies Stan’s humiliation. As the movie goes on, we like Stan more and more because he slowly becomes a better person. Eventually he inspires his team to do better, to work harder. The ego fades and we witness him slowly gaining real pride in what he’s accomplished – not that egomaniacal pride, but a sincere good feeling about having played so well.

Most sports movies involve some kind of cliffhanger, and that’s true here too. There’s a terrific scene in which Stan finally gets the first of the three hits he needs. He doesn’t expect it, nor do we, because it happens during what appears to be a run-of-the-mill scene. (I expected him to get the first hit during some big dramatic moment.) The question becomes: can he get the final two? I love how the movie ends. Obviously, I’m not going to give it away, but the ending manages to be totally satisfying without being false.

Bernie Mac is wonderful in his first starring role. We all know he’s funny – and he scores some big laughs here – but the guy can also act. I think Mac’s humor helps make Stan’s narcissism go down easier. The guy thinks way too highly of himself, but we root for him anyway because we sense a likeability underneath. With his priceless facial expressions and unique vocal cadences, Bernie Mac owns this character. He may not be the first person you’d think of for a role like this, but he does an admirable job with it.

Mr. 3000 indulges in a fair amount of sports clichés, right up to the all-important final play of the final game. Guess who’s at bat and needs only one more hit? That’s okay though, because the film uses that cliché to make its ultimate point. This is a story about a guy who learns from his mistakes, who realizes that it’s not what you accomplish in life that matters but the grace with which you accomplish it. That’s a beautiful message. And it has nothing to do with sports.

( out of four)

Mr. 3000 is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

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