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Mr. 3000

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
102 min. Buena Vista Pictures. Director: Charles Stone III. Cast: Bernie Mac, Angela Bassett, Michael Rispoli, Brian J. White, Ian Anthony Dale.

Bernie Mac's now-familiar shtick of bad-boy braggadocio gets a sensible vehicle in Mr. 3000, which casts the gifted comic and TV star as a pompous sultan of swat. The vehicle may be more like an Acura than a Porsche, but it gets decent mileage out of its mildly funny character comedy. Mr. 3000 won't convert those already repelled by Mac's abrasive and arrogant characters; his fans, however, will find much to like in the comic's first starring role.

Mac's fans know that his shock-value jerks always get a come-uppance, usually followed by a grudging measure of attitude adjustment. Such is the trajectory of Mr. 3000's pop fly into center field. Mac plays 47-year-old Stan Ross, a former Milwaukee Brewer and current strip-mall entrepeneur. Ross's claim to fame—3000 career hits—forms the basis of his fame and fortune, such as they are; his strip-mall includes a hair salon called "3000 Cuts" and a beeper outlet called "3000 Beeps" (steps down from his Reebok-ad heyday). Ross spends most of his time in his sports bar, entertaining his only friend: a former teammate nicknamed Boca (Michael Rispoli). Everyone else degrades Ross for his bragging and his selfishness.

When Ross turns up the heat on his Baseball Hall-of-Fame bid, the bookkeepers discover a startling error in tabulation: Ross only earned 2,997 hits. Determined to reclaim his honor, Ross convinces Chris Noth's money-grubbing general manager to let the old ballplayer make an unlikely comeback. Back in play after nine slothful years, Ross has the better part of a season to earn his three hits and restore his legacy. Of course, he finds the experience humbling, not only for his physical decline but for his growing self-awareness of his own errant ways. Nine years before, Ross told his teammates, "I ain't playin' no more," and he meant it literally; though the pennant race was on, Ross had "his," so he left the team in the lurch (Paul Sorvino has an amusing, nearly wordless turn as Stan's jilted team manager). Flat supporting characters, like a Japanese player with limited cussing ability ("You have a hole in your ass") and a Tweedledee-Tweedledum duo of inveterate gamblers, pad out the modern-day team.

Faced with a tenacious ESPN reporter (Angela Bassett) who happens to be his one-that-got-away paramour and an heir-apparent hotshot named "T-Rex" Pennebaker (one-time New England Patriot Brian White), Ross takes steps to rectify his bad behavior. Ross's puppy-eyed humiliation and subsequent conversion from wiseguy to wise man are almost as winning as his streetwise acid wit, but the overall laugh quotient disappoints. Though underused, Bassett certainly holds her own with Mac in their spicy banter scenes; with limited screen time, White similarly sells his own character conversion under Ross's tutelage. Director Charles Stone III (Drumline) keeps the beat with a soundtrack of soul standards. Baseball fans will respond to the Dick Enberg cameo and the filmmakers' skepticism for self-absorbed star players. Though letting Mac loose to be as nasty as he wants to be would certainly be welcome, so is the family-friendly comedy of Mr. 3000, with its cautionary messages about bad sportsmanship, questionable priorities, and crying wolf too long with a good woman.

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