- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

OK, Bernie Mac. You’ve got a network sitcom, and you’ve shown you can steal pictures both profane — “Bad Santa” (2003) — and profoundly mediocre — “Head of State” (2003).

But can you carry a motion picture all by your lonesome?

It takes only a dozen or so minutes of the new comedy “Mr. 3000” for that question to answer itself.

Yup.

Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is the Barry Bonds of this film’s world, a sweet-swinging slugger who won’t play nice with the press. He’s the kind of pampered athlete who swipes a baseball souvenir from a child.

When he gets his 3,000th hit, which presumably punches his ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he lets the assembled scribes have it in the locker room and abruptly quits in the middle of a pennant race.

He retires to a life of cheesy endorsement deals, all cashing in on his “Mr. 3000” moniker.

When a technicality disallows three of his 3,000 hits, his seemingly automatic entry into the Hall of Fame hits a snag.

So he unretires nearly a decade after he left the game, thinking he’s got at least three more hits left in his 47-year-old body.

Any baseball fan knows the hazards of such a scheme. So does the team owner (“Sex and the City’s” Chris Noth), but this businessman can also see the marketing windfall in Stan’s return and gives it his blessing.

The title role allegedly went through several big actors’ fingers only to land in Mr. Mac’s lap. All of the above may have proven better physical specimens then Mr. Mac. Heck, it hurts just to watch some of his swings.

None of them, however, could capture the split personality of the modern athlete quite as Mr. Mac does.

The former stand-up comic, with those electric eyes and a mug that finds a new expression in every scene, proves not just a capable comic actor but simply a gifted actor — no qualifier necessary.

His Stan Ross buys his own hype, but his initial failure and inability to win over sports scribe and ex-flame Angela Bassett shake his faith.

We buy every minute of it.

Neither the writing nor director Charles Stone III’s camera gets in Mr. Mac’s way. Better still, the star isn’t asked to carry the project like so many other vehicles built around budding talents.

We get the obligatory training scenes as Stan adjusts to Pilates and other newfangled techniques, but the gags are efficient and comical.

“Mr. 3000” embeds us in Stan’s world via ESPN snippets and asides from the boorish hosts of “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” — both either shameless plugs or the best way to anchor Stan’s character in the modern sports world. It’s clearly the latter, and a scene in which Mr. Stone splices Stan into the “Best Damn” set is darn near poignant.

Even the film’s romantic angle — Stan tries to convince his sexy old flame that he’s a changed man — crackles with romance and good humor.

Baseball fans will call the final out well before it’s played, but few could envision a gimmicky story such as “Mr. 3000” relying not on its formulaic trappings but on patient storytelling for its payoff pitch.

***

WHAT: “Mr. 3000”

RATING: PG-13 (Strong language, sexual situations)

CREDITS: Directed by Charles Stone III. Screenplay by Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell and Howard Gould.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

WEB SITE: mr3000.movies.go.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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