Monday, August 11, 2008

BERNIE MAC 1958-2008

In her thoughtful and observant obituary for Bernie Mac, who died Saturday at the age of 50 of complications from pneumonia, Los Angeles Times staff writer Valerie Taylor mentions, of course, the comedian’s fitfully brilliant eponymous TV series, its checkered production history, and Mac’s participation in the Original Kings of Comedy tour which created the career surge that peaked commercially with his participation in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies. But as good as Mac was in those projects, especially the series, Taylor fails to mention, probably because it made nary a ripple at the box office, the one opportunity Mac had to carry a feature film. The movie was Mr. 3,000 (2004), directed by Charles Stone III, starring Mac as Stan Ross, a prickly, egomaniacal baseball star who retires after his 3,000th hit, only to find out years later, after he’s built a cheesy business empire on his fame as Mr. 3,000, that a statistical error has actually left him just shy of the actual goal. Ross decides to return to the game and pursue the three hits he has left to rack up in order to assure his instatement into the Hall of Fame, but he’s out of shape and finds out that getting the at-bats necessary may not be so easy when he’s upstaged by an up-and-coming hitter who takes his selfish view of the game to new extremes. The role suits Mac’s slick-witted, insinuating persona perfectly, and he was fortunate that Stone has a good eye for actors, good timing for comedy and action, and the good sense to make the milieu of baseball believable (those are real minor-leaguers standing in for the Brewers, Astros and other teams in the movie), all of which lent weight and credence to Mac’s presence on the field and in his testy romance with sports reporter Angela Bassett. It was a great role for the actor because it built upon his familiar persona and allowed him the chance to shade it in with the creases and folds of humanity that were a regular attraction on his TV series, and it hinted at the kind of rich work that he might do as his star continued to rise. (His creepy, intimidatingly funny turn the previous year in Bad Santa, all ominous threats as a department store detective whose tobacco-stained grin let on all manner of potential for corruption, seemed to take his character work as far as it could go.) Mr. 3,000 didn’t attract the kind of audience that built a lot of confidence in Mac as a leading man—it was left up to TV to prove the lie in Hollywood’s uncertainty about his audience appeal. And it’s unclear whether, if Mr. 3,000 had turned out to be the hit it should have been, whether he still would have found a niche as a leading man. But it’s nice to know that there exists one movie where he proved what he could do with a meaty lead, a movie that honors its subject as it honors Mac, by giving both the space on screen to breathe and ring true.

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