Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton and Lake Bell
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: August 29th
Based on a true story, well as true a story as Disney would allow, Million Dollar Arm focuses on sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) who in an effort to save his struggling agency, comes up with an idea to start a reality show in India to try and find cricket bowlers and turn them into baseball pitchers. Selling the idea to Chang (Tzi Ma), an Asian businessman who is looking to invest in Asian athletes, Bernstein travels throughout India eventually finding two hopefuls, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal). Soon they head back to the U.S. for training in the hopes of being signed to a major league team.
One issue that the film has is with the character of Bernstein. This is not down to the performance of Jon Hamm who delivers all the charm of Mad Man’s Don Draper, albeit a Disneyifed non-smoking, less alcoholic version, and remains a very watchable screen presence throughout. It’s down to the fact that the storyline for Bernstein is nothing more than a typical redemption story. From the very beginning we can tell how everything is going to turn out. He lives a bachelor lifestyle, sleeping with numerous models; I wonder if he will learn to settle down, especially since his good looking tenet/neighbour (Lake Bell) seems to have an interest with him? Workaholic? Surely he’ll realise there is more to life than work. And I wonder if having to take care of two Indian teenagers will teach him all about responsibility? Does the Pope shit in the woods?
Another problem with Bernstein is that the character’s arc, going from riches to slightly less riches and back to riches again, is not the most relatable story. When the characters idea of a sacrifice is to trade in his sports car for a five door family car, it is quite a challenge to really sympathise with him. Ultimately there is something rather hollow about a wealthy person realising that there is more to life than money.
Perhaps the film would have been more interesting should the filmmakers had decided to focus more on the two Indian players instead. Having come from poor backgrounds, what they go through is a life changing experience and the performances of Sharma and Mittal, both would be best known in the west for their work in Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire respectively, are likable for an audience to engage in. Sadly, as the film decides to focus its attention on the generic first world problems of J.B. Bernstein, their story is relegated to a sub-plot while their characters are more often used as vessels for a series of culture clash gags.
This is not to say that the film terrible. The performances are pretty solid and they are some good supporting turns by Bill Paxton as a Zen like pitching coach, and Alan Arkin gets a couple of decent laughs as a cranky old baseball scout. All this however cannot overcome the formulaic nature of the film that makes it pleasant enough to watch but struggles to leave any impact after.