Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Alan Arkin
Release Date: May 16th, 2014
There are two distinct stories in the new baseball drama Million Dollar Arm. The first story is told within the first hour as an unsuccessful sports agent named JB (Jon Hamm) attempts to turn his life around by finding a talented baseball star in the untapped— in the sport, mind that is— nation of India. The second story revolves around JB’s plan to turn two decent Indian athletes into professional baseball players as they adjust to life in the United States.
The Disney film, sickness which is based on a true story, advice opens with JB struggling to sign a major player in the United States. He seems very close to a deal but when the player opts to go to another agency, JB is back where he started— struggling to make a name for himself. He’s an underdog in the business (despite the fact that he owns a huge home) and needs to find an opportunity for success that no one else is thinking about. He finds that by looking in India, where the game of cricket is hugely popular but the game of baseball is barely discussed.
JB believes that a successful cricket player could transform into a successful baseball player so along with the always-napping scout Ray (Alan Arkin) and the optimistic Amit (Pitobash), he tours the nation looking for a few pitchers who can pitch over 80 miles an hour. Of course, the young players that he eventually recruits named Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) lack the discipline to pitch in a straight line but the philosophy is if they can pitch at a high speed, they can be taught to pitch accurately.
Thomas McCarthy, who previously penned must-see features like The Visitor and Win Win, does a strong job here in combining the aspects of a road trip film with the typical ideas found in an inspiring sports feature. The first hour, in particular, stands out as JB explores India and learns about the customs and philosophies there. He must adapt to that culture in order to receive the support and equipment he needs to try out ball players.
The second half of the drama focuses on Rinku and Dinesh as they struggle to adapt to the culture in the United States. Inevitably, there are sequences where they are overwhelmed by escalators and elevators and there’s also a scene where they gorge out on food and alcohol. Such scenes seem inevitable here but one only wishes that the screenwriter would’ve sought to display their culture shock in a more unique way.
The movie, of course, isn’t trying to break any new ground but it does achieve its limited objectives and tells its story well, checking some a few stereotypical boxes along the way (a main character who develops a new lease on life, a previously untapped relationship becoming more transparent etc.)
That being said, Million Dollar Arm is still a quality family film that seldom surprises but never fails in telling a good story with a few solid laughs along the way. It doesn’t break any new ground but never really aims to.
Review by: John Hanlon