MRR Review: "Million Dollar Arm"

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Rating: PG
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: May 16, 2014
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Genre: Biography / Drama / Sport

JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a down-on-his-luck sports agent who just had a client stolen out from under him by an unscrupulous agent. That client was a big-time NFL prospect who JB hoped would be his meal ticket for the next several years. With his business now in jeopardy, JB must come up with a plan to save it, so he and his business partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) don't lose their houses. One night while flipping channels, he comes across an Indian cricket match and realizes that India might be an untapped goldmine of future professional baseball players. His idea sets in motion the events that led to "Million Dollar Arm," which is based on a true story.

JB and Aash quickly find an investor and pitch their idea, and he agrees to fund their endeavor. The idea is for Aash to travel to India and create a reality competition where men will pitch and compete to win $100,000 and the chance to travel to the United States to train with famed USC baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton). This in turn will lead to a chance to get signed by an MLB team, which could mean big money. When Aash has to back out of the trip at the last minute due to family obligations, JB takes over and travels to India with cranky talent scout Ray (Alan Arkin). They adjust to their new environment with the help of Amit (Pitobash), a baseball enthusiast who brings lots of levity to the proceedings.

After several regional competitions, two standouts named Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) are picked to travel to Los Angeles with JB and Amit, who enthusiastically agrees to tag along, even though he doesn't pitch. The boys are amazed with Los Angeles and soon have starry eyes and dreams of big-league glory as they begin training with House. As the tough training wears them down, they begin to miss their families, especially since JB initially seems completely disinterested in their emotional well-being. It isn't until his tenant, a wise doctor named Brenda (Lake Bell), points out they are hurting emotionally that JB realizes he has inadvertently formed a makeshift family of sorts. He slowly starts to bond with the boys, opening up his heart not only to them, but possibly to the pretty doctor as well.

Hamm knows how to play a closed-off, emotionally unavailable businessman, since he has done it for years as the star of "Mad Men." At the start of "Million Dollar Arm," JB has the potential to be a cool customer like Don Draper, but almost as soon as he gets to India, he begins to change. Over the course of the film, his emotional growth becomes clearer, which makes the film as much about his journey as it about the journeys of Rinku and Dinesh, who have the potential to be the first Indian-born players to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team.

Although the film is about the journeys of JB, Rinku and Dinesh, many of the film's best moments belong to Pitobash, who is a huge Bollywood comedy star. He steals nearly every scene he is in due to his willingness to make himself look completely silly and yet irresistibly charming. Without him, there wouldn't be very much to laugh at in the film, since the other characters' story lines are mostly serious. It's nice to have so much comic relief in a film that could have easily been straight drama. He balances things out and makes the film much more delightful than it would have been if the writer, Thomas McCarthy, had stuck with pure drama.

Disney produced "Million Dollar Arm," the latest installment in its stable of sports-themed films. The studio has received lots of critical acclaim for previous films like "Miracle," which is also based on a true story. These films are often dramatic and heartfelt, with a generally happy, or at least hopeful, ending. The films can occasionally be formulaic, but the studio does a good job with writing and casting that the films are infinitely watchable, even if the audience can easily predict the ending. "Million Dollar Arm" got a huge casting coup in Hamm and Pitobash, and Thomas McCarthy's screenplay is equal parts touching and funny. Because of this, the film is a classic example of an inspirational Disney sports film, albeit one with more comedy than most. This is a good thing, and a big reason why adults and kids alike will enjoy it.