Kirsten Dunst's net flick.

Kirsten Dunst's net flick.

Kirsten Dunst's net flick.

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Sept. 16 2004 7:03 PM

Net Flick

Kirsten Dunst does Wimbledon; plus, Mr. 3000.

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It's a bumpy road to Cooperstown for Mac

As Stan Ross, the middle-aged baseball ex-superstar of Mr. 3000 (Dimension/Disney), Bernie Mac sticks out his big chest and speaks with huffy entitlement, the soul of celebrity-athlete lordliness. And yet those spinning-plate eyes (which you never catch blinking) flash panic as they scan the crowd for a sign of how he's going over. The actor is an edgy, electric clown: His prickliness could push him into whingeing self-pity or even—potentially—violence.

But not here. Mr. 3000 is a surprisingly laid-back—at times even morose—comedy about an arrogant SOB who gets his comeuppance. Stan is a champ in part because he puts his individual numbers ahead of the team (the Milwaukee Brewers); and when he gets his 3,000th hit, he promptly announces his retirement—in the middle of a pennant race. The movie stretches credulity by imagining a player could do that and not be run out of town by outraged fans, much less establish an empire of local "Mr. 3000" stores and restaurants. But Stan is somehow forgiven by everyone but his teammates and the sportswriters who elect the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And then, nine years later, comes the news that his best claim to Cooperstown inclusion—those 3,000 hits that put him in the company of the immortals—is based on a counting error. Three hits short, the pudgy 47-year-old goes back into baseball—and the general manager (Chris Noth) of the last-place Brewers welcomes him because he's the best chance to fill the stadium.

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The movie is about Stan's realization that the enemy is his own ego: a humiliating lesson, and one that doesn't end on the high note we're expecting. Directed by Charles Stone III, who made the low-budget hit Drumline (2002), Mr. 3000 doesn't have the high-energy raunch that Mac's fans might crave, and there's some formula swill in the mix. There's potential for a hilariously combustible relationship with a nervy ESPN reporter played by Angela Bassett, but the otherwise funny script (by Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell, and Howard Gould) goes soft and finally turns her into a hanger-on—a woman who seems to have had no romantic life after Stan. You can forgive the movie almost anything, though, for Mac's look of terror in the middle of his first push-up in a decade, and for the scenes in which he's taunted by the team's mascot, a giant sausage. It's a macho deflation worth savoring.

Mr. 3000 is also refreshing because it ends on a slightly sour, dissonant note: Stan wins, but not in the way he imagines. It's a nice change from the sports films that end with fists pumping and crowds going nuts—with athletes who win not because they were born with better equipment and are ruthless in their focus, but because they're spiritually more evolved. For a more conventional good time, check out the ingratiating, romantic go-for-it movie Wimbledon (Universal)—in which the hero needs to be more, not less, macho.

Bettany scores in Wimbledon
Bettany scores in Wimbledon

He's a fair Englishman, Peter Colt (Paul Bettany): a one-time 11th-ranked tennis star who could never close a championship match. Peter doesn't have much competitive drive—maybe because he's rich and his father always said that tennis was "a gentleman's sport." Then, as a wild card at Wimbledon, he falls for a hottie American tennis star, Lizzy Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), who puts winning ahead of everything. And suddenly Peter begins to move up the ranks.

It's a strange message. An athlete falls in love in the course of a tournament, and, as a result of those warm and fuzzy new feelings, he finds the killer instinct to obliterate his opponents. Or it might be that he finally cares about something as a man, and he commits, and that commitment gives him the killer instinct to obliterate his opponents—even his best friend, who tells him, admiringly, "You hit from the soul … the heart … something's happened to you." So here's a tip for all you coaches and managers out there: Get your players to fall in love, and they'll kill.

Directed by Richard Loncraine from a snappy script by Adam Brooks,Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, Wimbledonis a bit of a philosophical muddle, but the climactic tennis scenes are galvanically convincing, with some long, nerve-racking rallies. And the rest of the picture works as Notting Hill (1999) with balls—and rackets. The easily abashed Englishman gets to bat his eyes and deliver farcical lies very badly, and the American female celebrity is tantalizing and elusive—just like America is to some Brits. Dunst has trouble connecting all the dots in the part (she's a little too mushy-sweet) and in matching Bettany's verbal felicity stroke for stroke. But this is the part that will finally make the tall, freckled Bettany a star. He's exquisitely high-strung in a way that women will find madly attractive and men madly agreeable. Above all, we Americans like our winners to be winning.

David Edelstein is the chief film critic for New York magazine and a film critic for NPR’s Fresh Air.