Pairing director Charles Stone III (“Drumline”) with comic-turned-TV star Bernie Mac might sound like a winning combination, but “Mr. 3000” never generates enough laughs to escape the infield. It doesn’t help that this is a sports movie that lacks any suspense or dramatic tension about what transpires on the field, and Mac plays such a self-absorbed jerk through most of the film that rooting interest is minimal. Mac’s loyal following should help with the box-office gate, but even proximity to the baseball playoffs seems unlikely to prevent this minor leaguer from earning a relatively quick hook.
Perhaps it’s damnation with faint praise to say the pic resists most sports cliches, since that’s largely because the story doesn’t follow through on its various threads. The slimy owner (“Sex and the City’s” Chris Noth) isn’t that slimy, the strangely silent manager (Paul Sorvino) is a gag that never really pays off, and the teammates are both too easily won over and too quickly riled.
Nor does the script (credited to Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell and Howard Michael Gould) pack enough power to sustain the comedy, resulting in a flat tone throughout — a few notches below something like “Major League.” What little goodwill the film generates comes largely from its star, and Mac can’t carry that burden alone.
The premise must have sounded great in a pitch meeting: Stan Ross (Mac) walked away from baseball after smacking his 3,000th hit — a sure-fire ticket to the Hall of Fame — nearly a decade earlier. Now 47 and paunchy, Stan has parlayed his career into a modest little empire of Mr. 3000 shops, despite his thorny relationship with the press and dismissive attitude toward fans.
Suddenly though, Mr. 3,000 is Mr. 2,997, as it’s discovered three hits in an interrupted game were inadvertently counted twice. So Stan decides to get those three more hits by rejoining his old team, the Milwaukee Brewers, which is more than willing to undertake the publicity stunt in an effort to boost attendance for the struggling franchise.
“I still see the ball, I still hit the ball,” Stan says, more than a little naively.
Stepping back into the limelight reunites Stan with an old flame, Mo (Angela Bassett), now an ESPN reporter who doesn’t seem to mind sleeping with her sources. He’s also introduced to a new set of teammates he already alienated by publicly calling them “little leaguers.”
The problem is, beyond Stan’s sought-after three hits, there’s nothing really at stake. The team can’t win the pennant, there’s no sense Stan risks losing anything but pride if he doesn’t achieve his milestone, and Stan doesn’t exhibit enough of a personal arc to suggest he can teach young superstar T-Rex (the convincingly athletic Brian White) much of anything.
After the obligatory sequence where Stan trains to get back into shape, there’s also not much to the baseball, other than the revelation that Mac bats left handed.
At times, the film appears to exist principally to allow ESPN and Fox Sports talent plenty of crossover appearances (don’t we all get enough of ESPN’s Stuart Scott on “SportsCenter”?) as well as a cameo by Jay. Any movie featuring 10 actors credited as “himself” should probably come with a mandatory warning label.
After a series of second-banana film roles suited to his muttering delivery, Mac — one of the “Original Kings of Comedy” — remains best in the sitcom domain. After this at bat, his star status is still open to debate.
Bassett, meanwhile, has little to do beyond looking great, with her physique representing one of the few things in the pic that isn’t underdeveloped.