Directed by: Craig Gillespie.
Written by: Thomas McCarthy.
Starring: Jon Hamm (JB), Pitobash (Amit), Suraj Sharma (Rinku), Madhur Mittal (Dinesh), Aasif Mandvi (Aash), Darshan Jariwala (Vivek), Lake Bell (Brenda), Alan Arkin (Ray), Bill Paxton (Tom House), Gregory Alan Williams (Doug), Allyn Rachel (Theresa), Tzi Ma (Chang), Rey Maualuga (Popo), Bar Paly (Lisette).
Normally, I am a sucker for a good inspirational sports movie – and for the most part, Disney makes these better than just about anyone. Put on Remember the Titans (2000), The Rookie (2002) Miracle (2004) or Invincible or Glory Road (both 2006) and I usually fall under their spell all over again – and I will have a good time, and probably end up crying at some point. I may not feel very good about that later – none of them are particularly great movies, but they are effective at being precisely what they want to be – male oriented tear jerkers. So, I was looking forward to Million Dollar Arm – which looked to be another one in Disney’s lineup. Unfortunately, it kind of seems like everyone is just going through the motions in this one – and when you couple it with the fact the real story isn’t exactly the most inspiring one in the world (the movie doesn’t lie per se – but it does stop before the end of the story) and overall I wasn’t overly thrilled with the film.
The film stars Jon Hamm as JB Bernstein – a once successful sports agent, who decided to strike out on his own a few years before, and had things go poorly ever since. He is basically on the edge of his company going under – when he sees a cricket match on TV and gets an idea. The pitchers in cricket throw the ball really hard, right? So what if they turn them into baseball players? India has some of the best cricket players in the world, and they don’t watch baseball – but give them a couple of stars, and you baseball has a billion new fans overnight (or so the theory goes anyway). As he’s watching the cricket match on TV, he’s switching back and forth between it and an episode of Britain’s Got Talent – and he has an even better idea. Do the whole thing as a game show in India. It’s surprisingly easy for JB to get the money together to do this, and to find a scout (Alan Arkin) who can help JB ensure they get good players, and a coach (Bill Paxton) who is willing to work with the winners when they come to America. JB`s backer has one stipulation – the winners have to be ready for a tryout for pro-scouts in one year.
The film was directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Tom McCarthy – both of whom are capable of much better, and are most likely just doing this for the paycheck. McCarthy in particular is quite talented (no matter what critics say about his latest, The Cobbler, out of TIFF – nothing can change the fact his previous three films, The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win are all excellent (that last one in particular is a smart sports film, which shows he could do this better if he really wanted to). One of the major problems with Million Dollar Arm is that the whole movie seems rushed – as if we have to rush from one moment to the next, so that the movie can try and be all things to all people – in addition to an inspirational sports movie, the film also wants to be a fish out of water comedy, a romantic comedy (courteous of Hamm's tenant, played by Lake Bell), and a few other things as well. The film never really settles down to allow any of the different plot threads to settle though. Just when the movie is settling into a story of an almost Don Draper-type sales person (probably why they cast Hamm), albeit a much kinder, gentler one – the film switches gears to be a comedy about Americans not understanding India, and then just as that is settling down again, it flips and becomes just the reverse – and the previously nice JB becomes an asshole, just so he can become a nice guy at the end and be redeemed. Through it all, the actual story of the two pitchers from India – played by Suraj Sharma, from Life of Pi, and Madhur Mittal, as well as their translator (Pitobash) seems almost like an afterthought much of the time. And in case you haven’t been paying attention to baseball over the past few years, they are not exactly tearing up the major league right now – although the movie ends, conveniently, on a high note for the pair.
The film never really works – it never really figures out what the real story here is – which isn’t about a sports agent who learns to be less of an asshole, but that of two poor kids from India who had never played baseball before who became pretty good over the course of a single year. Yet the Indian characters are never really well defined – the screenplay does little to differentiate between them. They are simply a way to tell the story of the films hero – a rich, white sports agent. The film in a corporate product, about a corporate product which tries very hard to be inspiring, but left me cold.