Friday, September 22, 2006

Movie Review: "Mr. 3000 "

by Matt Sandler
"The Critical Fan"

The cynic in me often gets the feeling that the entire attitude that baseball players present—just wanting to win, not caring about individual statistics, jumping like a Little Leaguer when a teammate hits a walk-off home run—is a big fat charade. On the inside, they’re looking out for #1, just as, frankly, so many the rest of us are. If they care about padding their statistics, so be it. For those of us that work for large corporations, how much do we really care about the bottom line, versus making sure we advance in our careers? The intermittently funny Mr. 3000 (2004) is about a baseball player who has the courage to admit that he’s a self-centered bastard.

The movie opens in 1995, as longtime Brewer Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is closing in on the 3,000-hit plateau. He has played his entire career for the hapless Milwaukee Brewers; I was surprised that the Brewers allowed their uniforms and names to be used, as they are shown to be quite a pathetic franchise. (One minor detail that the filmmakers get wrong, I believe, is that the players are shown in the uniforms that the Brewers currently use, which I believe the team was not using in 1995.) Everyone in baseball universally dislikes Stan, except—a la Barry Bonds—the home fans, who he does not treat with the greatest amount of respect. Teammates, opponents, the media, umpires—to Stan, these are all impediments in his goal to make the entire world revolve around him. He is single, and carries on an off-and-on relationship with ESPN reporter Maureen “Mo” Simmons (Angela Bassett).

Stan retires the night he achieves his 3,000th hit, showing his true colors as a player who only really cares about individual statistics. He then spends his retirement opening up a Mr. 3000-themed shopping mall in the Milwaukee area, and continuing his rotten, self-infatuated existence.

Here comes the hardest part to believe in the movie. After nine years out of the game—in other words, four years of Hall of Fame eligibility—Stan has not been elected to Cooperstown. I have to believe that no matter how rotten a guy he was, and how badly he treated the press, the Baseball Writers Association of America would vote him into the Hall of Fame into his first year of eligibility for achieving 3,000 hits. But perhaps I’m becoming churlish, because then there would be no movie.

Anyway, in 2004, a Brewers official discovers that there has been an error in the books—something not that likely to happen—and Stan really has 2,997 hits. Determined to reclaim his designation as “Mr. 3000,” at the age of 47, he works his way back into shape to try to capture the three hits that he thinks he needs to keep his good shot at making the Hall. Along the way, the game has caught up with him—more players are selfish, including the Brewers’ new best player, Rex “T-Rex” Pennabaker (Brian J. White). As he tries to achieve the milestone again, and becomes a national laughingstock due to his age (imagine Julio Franco last having played in 1997, and now being a regular), he also tries to become a better teammate. He becomes somewhat of a role model for T-Rex, who could use some counseling in the modesty department.

The problem with the movie is that for a comedy, it is just not funny enough. There are some clever lines, and certainly the premise is a good one. I think part of the problem stems from the fact that Bernie Mac is almost too successful in creating the portrait of a miserable S.O.B. It is hard to root for this guy (he doesn’t bring the joy of being cocky that Rickey Being Rickey did), so it just comes off as churlish. Skip Mr. 3000, and start rooting for the next real-life Mr. 3000, Craig Biggio, instead.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan", appears alternate Fridays.

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine