A successful sports movie is like a good adult film — it has to appeal to your basest instincts, it needs a lot of good action scenes, and, generally, the less plot the better. Actually, to my way of thinking, there are no bad sports movies, just varying degrees of guilty pleasure. Because, inevitably, the quality of the film is inversely proportional to the trick-play finale; the shoddier the plot, the worse the dialogue, the shittier the acting, the more elaborate and improbable the winning score must be. And I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for the trick play: the hook-n-ladder in Varsity Blues, the 75-yard double reverse in Remember the Titans, the catch-n-concussion in Jerry Maguire, the spectacular failure of Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, or the even the offense/defense role reversal of The Waterboy.
But, the baseball movie is an unfortunate subset of the sports movie genre — one in which there is very little opportunity for trick plays. Instead, we get trite ninth-inning heroics, in the form of either a strikeout (if Kevin Costner is pitching) or a homerun (if Kevin Costner is at bat). Baseball movie climaxes are the missionary position of sports movies — droning, predictable, and formulaic, which means the filmmakers actually have to put some effort into the storyline to make it work. Baseball pictures need more than game-ending gimmickry — they need meaningful pastime philosophies, imaginative sports metaphors, and, most importantly, an abundance of heart.
By that measure, Mr. 3000 is — for the most part — a rousing failure on nearly all levels. Even relative to other bad sports movies, Mr. 3000 stinks. If a director (in this case, Charles Stone III, whose father and grandfather must be ashamed to bear the same name) insists on resurrecting the baseball comedy, he should attempt something fresh or at least add a modest twist to the formula. But Mr. 3000 insults the intelligence of even baseball fans, whose entertainment threshold is so low we are willing to sit through three hours of an actual Milwaukee Brewers game.
The premise of Mr. 3000 is in the name itself: Stan Ross (Bernie Mac), a Barry Bondsian self-absorbed egotist, abruptly retires from baseball on the day he collects his 3,000th hit, thus assuring his induction into the Hall of Fame, despite his chilly relationship with both his fans and the sports writers. Nine years later, finally on the verge of entering Cooperstown, Ross discovers that three of his hits were double counted. And since the movie is obviously not called Mr. 2997, the 47-year-old Ross takes to the diamond again, in hopes of collecting three more hits and solidifying his Hall of Fame credentials. Because the Milwaukee Brewers owner is played by Chris Noth, doing a charmless Mr. Big, you already know that Ross’ reentry is all but assured.
What follows is the usual sports movie hokum: the bad musical montage (this time, its “YMCA,” which should be avoided in all films that do not star Nathan Lane), the old man jokes, the international baseball player stereotype (a Japanese pitcher with little understanding of English curse phrases), the abused team mascot, and a baseball team that turns a horrible season into a lengthy winning streak. Basically, Mr. 3000 is Major League III, without the intermittently funny sight gags.
It’s a shame, too, because Bernie Mac deserves better. Mac has consistently stolen scenes in otherwise terrible movies like Head of State, Life, and Bad Santa, but here, he’s left floundering with an awful script and the usual group of C-listers who make up the cast of baseball movies. Playing a gruff, cranky egotist should be a natural for Mac, who has perfected the role in his weekly sitcom, but what little comedic potential his character has is squandered when Mr. 3000 takes an ill-advised turn into come-to-terms-with-myself heartwarming babble.
Paul Sorvino also makes an appearance, if you can call it that. He’s the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, playing some sort of Silent Bob/Bobby Cox character. For over an hour and a half, he says absolutely nothing, but you know that he’ll eventually open his mouth, and when he does, you expect some sort of ham-fisted baseball philosophy about stepping up the plate. But, believe it or not, we’re cheated out of even that.
When the movie finally rolls into the ninth inning of the last game of the year, I had all but given up my belief that there are no bad sports movies. And although I knew exactly what to expect, when the music swelled and the fans cheered, I almost forgot the painful 90 minutes I had just sat through. There wasn’t an abundance of heart, but it was enough to win me over, at least for a few moments. But then again, I’m a sucker for a trick play.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Mr. 3000 / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()