With few exceptions, Hollywood sports movies are meant to inspire, whether with buzzer-beaters and Hail Mary miracles, or through scrappy underdogs who overcome injury, disease, or plain old ineptitude to win the big game. But it's a sign of the times that Mr. 3000, a mild and forgettable baseball comedy, entertains a more modest fantasy: for professional athletes to behave like ordinary, decent human beings. Granted, it isn't fair for people to expect their superstars to double as role models and heroes, especially when their heroes (and villains) have always been far more complicated characters. Yet there's a world of difference between the 1998 home-run race, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris' single-season record, and the 2001 anticlimax, when the surly Barry Bonds breezed past McGwire's mark. McGwire and Sosa captivated a nation, but Bonds was just an asshole who could hit.
Though he adds a shimmying swagger to his repertoire, Bernie Mac does his best Bonds impersonation in Mr. 3000, playing a moody slugger who shuns the press, refuses to sign autographs, and cares more about his stats than his team's success. After collecting his 3,000th hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1995, Mac retires abruptly in the middle of a pennant race, confident that his numbers will earn him merchandising millions and his rightful place in Cooperstown. When it comes out that he's actually three hits short of 3,000, Mac whips himself back into shape and rejoins the Brewers nine years later with vastly diminished skills, but the team's owners indulge him, so long as his presence fills the empty seats. Humbled enough by pitchers half his age, the 47-year-old also contends with the Brewers' young, ego-driven star (Brian J. White), the Lou Piniella-like manager (Paul Sorvino) he abandoned in '95, and ESPN reporter Angela Bassett, an ex-lover he once betrayed for floozies on the road.
Sputtering along on Mac's sleepy improvisations, Mr. 3000 volleys between the dumb, frat-house wackiness of Major League and the "Wonder Bat" schmaltz of The Natural and Field Of Dreams, chasing the gags with a lame baseball-as-life message about playing for the right reasons. The few times it evokes Bull Durham, the greatest of all baseball movies, are the most ingratiating, because they ground the film in a healthy sense of scale: Rather than lifting the Brewers from the cellar to the Series, Mac and the gang are merely hoping to climb seven games from fifth to third. Though it's refreshingly rare for a team to play for pride over glory in sports movies, Mr. 3000 isn't out to reinvent the genre. On the contrary, any movie soundtrack that features Village People's "Y.M.C.A.," Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," and James Brown's "I Feel Good" deserves to be diced into guitar picks.