24 August 2005 | ray-280
History Will Be Kinder Than The Critics; The Bratwurst Steals The Show
This is an excellent movie because it delivers on the promise of its marketing: you get the story of a 47 year-old former hitting star of the Milwaukee Brewers (Bernie Mac as Stan Ross), who retired nine years earlier with exactly 3,000 hits, believing that to be his ticket to the hall of fame, and milking the "Mr. 3000" persona for all it's worth commercially. It is very common in real life for former athletes to become car dealers and high-end stockbrokers, selling expensive things to rich people who want a little nostalgia as an extra, and if you check the end of "Miracle" you'll find many former members of the 1980 gold medal squad working in finance or banking.
The last-place Brewers are desperate for attendance (at least their owner, played by Chris Noth, is), and they lure Stan back to the ballpark to retire his number. While compiling a list of each of his 3,000 hits, it is learned that three of the hits were counted twice and he only has 2,997 hits, thus cancelling his ticket to Cooperstown. Stan will have none of this, and returns to the Brewers, whose owner figures he'll be a welcome distraction from the standings. Ross faces an uphill battle from the team he publicly derided prior to his return, even finding himself on the receiving end of a seemingly endless tirade of trash talk from a mascot dressed as a BRATWURST. The movie even paid an homage to the "sausage races" that occur in Milwaukee during the seventh inning stretch (a race between four mascots in various sausage uniforms).
The usual suspects (ESPN, etc.) make cameos, and Stan's on-again, off-again love interest (an ESPN reporter played by Angela Bassett) enjoys his company but finds him unsuitable for commitment to anything but his mirror. Stan has a full life and several close friends who accept his narcissism as part of the package that drew the fans to the ballpark all those years. The fans seem willing to forgive Stan everything because he came through for the team all those years, and even empathize with his plight to recapture his primary glory in life, taken from him through a mathematical error not even his. Paul Sorvino manages his best Earl Weaver impersonation as manager Gus Panas, but I was never a fan of that shtick when Earl did it.
The film has no real bad guy (other than Stan's ego), but they add an "It's A Wonderful Life" element to the film in the form of T. Rex Pennebaker (sp?), the brash young slugger you build championship teams around. T. Rex is a lot like Stan used to be, thus giving Stan pause, for like Stan used to, T. Rex walks the walk as he talks the talk. To his credit, T. Rex gives his all even for a last-place team, even if it's only to boost his stats.
Stan, who left the Brewers in a pennant race nine years ago, now tries to be a team player as he pursues the elusive three hits. He tries to show he has matured and loves the game, and assumes a mentoring role for a talented yet very undisciplined, young team, but the "old Stan" does not go away quietly, and in a way that's good, because for as egotistical as Stan is made out to be, it is obvious that he loves people, the spotlight, and genuinely wants to be liked. He just assumes that everyone is out for themselves the way he is out for himself.
If you tried to write the ending to this film, it wouldn't be surprising if you were not too far off from how they wrote this one. The movie doesn't even try to be unpredictable, and this is another strength, because there's really only one or two ways a movie like this can end.