MR. 3000

Bernie Mac is a funny fellow, but even his amusing shtick pales pretty quickly in “Mr. 3000,” a by-the-numbers baseball yarn about a retired player, known for his arrogance and selfishness, who returns to the lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers at age 47 in an attempt to get the three hits that have been subtracted from his record of 3000 as a result of a computing error and thereby, he hopes, secure the admission he’s long desired into the Hall of Fame. The trajectory of the plot is brazenly obvious, especially to anybody who’s had the misfortune to see “Mr. Baseball,” the Tom Selleck vehicle from 1992 about an over-the-hill major-league star who took a spot on a Japanese team, where he relearned his love of the game and found romance as well: it’s inevitable that Stan Ross (Mac), as the fellow is called here, is not only going to recognize the importance of being a team player rather than a prima donna (and revitalize the ailing franchise in the process), but that he will finally connect with Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett), the sports reporter he once romanced and lost because of his attitude. And you can be sure that his changed persona will at last win over manger Gus Panas (Paul Sorvino), who’s still steaming over Stan’s earlier departure from the team and giving him the silent treatment, while saving the current team superstar T-Rex Pennebaker (Brian White) from turning into the same sort of contemptuous, self-destructive sort of fellow he once was himself.

Everything in the movie is predictable, from the first sequences of superstar Ross’ obnoxiousness to the ways in which he puts his celebrity to financial use and the faux Hepburn-Tracy character of Stan’s relationship with Mo, from the shadiness of team owner Schembri (Chris Noth) in putting Ross back onto the roster to attract crowds to the goofiness of the Brewers’ roster of players (one of whom, a likable Japanese fellow, he instructs in English curse lingo) and the way in which Stan’s love of old stickball days on the streets of Chicago re-energizes not only himself but his mates. And there are, needless to say, a few contrived third-act hurdles to postpone the resolution of the story–an appearance on the Jay Leno show (has Leno no sense of shame?) that earns Ross the anger of both teammates and Mo, as well as a decision by Schembri to bench Stan during the final away games so that he can attract more fans to the last stretch of home ones. The obligatory best friend is here, too–a laid-back former teammate named Boca (Michael Rispoli).

That doesn’t mean that “Mr. 3000” doesn’t deliver an occasional chuckle: Mac is too loose and charming a guy for that. He can squeeze a laugh from material as ordinary as an embarrassing television commercial, a stressful workout session, or a “homecoming” stadium visit where he’s feted by a fellow player whom he doesn’t even remember, because most of his old teammates are unwilling to say anything positive about him. He’s especially good early in the picture, when he can indulge his character’s nastier side–the scene when he retrieves the ball that represented his three-thousandth hit from a kid in the stands is typical. But as the movie goes on it makes Ross blander and blander, and Mac can’t do much to rescue this softer fellow. Nobody else in the cast makes much effort to aid him–Bassett is strangely shrewish, Rispoli unenergetic, White generic (it doesn’t help that his character changes attitudes so abruptly), and Noth a standard-issue corporate shark–but Sorvino gives a charge to the single scene when Panas breaks out of his lethargy. Charles Stone III (“Drumroll”) directs without much verve, but the production is at least technically capable.

There’s a kind of poetic justice in the fact that the big finish of “Mr. 3000” involves a dilemma over whether Stan will try to make that last hit he needs to meet his goal, or sacrifice it to give his team a third-place finish in their division. That’s what’s known as setting one’s sights low, and the filmmakers have done that themselves. Unfortunately, they’ve hit their target: their movie is a cinematic foul ball that, despite all Mac’s efforts, doesn’t reach the comedy playoffs.