Million Dollar Arm (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Craig Gillespie, and starring Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Aasif Mandvi, Darshan Jariwala, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, Gregory Alan Williams, Allyn Rachel, Tzi Ma, Bar Paly.
Before I address the merits of the film, let’s just get one thing out of the way: you’ve already seen this movie. You’ve seen it dozens of times. Yep, you guessed it! The film is pure Disney through-and-through: a hard-hearted main character who, over the course of the film, sees his heart softened by the House of Mouse’s trademark over-the-top, formulaic sentimentality that we’ve come to expect and even appreciate. It’s familiar, it’s safe, and it’s comforting – a double-edged sword that hobbles the film without paralyzing it completely.
Based on a true story, the film follows JB (Jon Hamm), a Major League Baseball agent attempting to reinvigorate his career by scouting cricket players in India via a contest – the Million Dollar Arm. Upon discovering two talents, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), he whisks them back to the States to train with Tom House (Bill Paxton), a current coach in the league, for an upcoming showcase in the hopes that the two stars will be drafted. At the same time, he continually pacifies an intimidating investor (Tzi Ma), a neighbor and love interest, Brenda (Lake Bell), and his newfound role as father to these Indian fish-out-of-water.
The film’s biggest problem originates in the screenplay; the focus on the film should be on Rinku and Dinesh, but its central character is none other than JB. There’s no doubt why: Jon Hamm is a huge star after his Mad Men success and his love-to-hate-him supporting role in Bridesmaids. Forgive me, however, if I’d like to see Jon Hamm play a character that’s not a self-absorbed narcissist once in a while. Yes, his heart softens by the end of the film – this is classic Disney, after all – but the focus on his journey truly interferes with the journeys of Rinku and Dinesh whose stories, had they been told adequately, would have proven exponentially more interesting. The film goes for long stretches of time, for example, without showing any meaningful interaction between the two boys themselves; we do, however, get to share in their fascination with an elevator and video camera that leads to their ouster from a hotel; their obsession with pizza and their awkward unfamiliarity with the delivery guy; their first experience drinking too much and throwing up in JB’s expensive car, etc… It reeks of an ethnocentrism and disrespect for their stories. True, we get to see some meaningful interaction between one of the boys and his father before he leaves for America, but it’s fleeting; it would’ve been nice to see a more genuine, mature approach to their characters. With Suraj Sharma coming off an outstanding film-carrying turn in Life of Pi, he deserved better.
And, yet, despite all that, the film isn’t entirely unlikeable. It’s funny in all the right places. Its pacing is a bit slow, especially in the first third, but the film succeeds in building a sufficient amount of tension as the boys approach the drafting showcase. The usually-forgettable Lake Bell is a delight, and her character’s needling of JB has you rooting for her. The ending was picture-perfect, but its emotional hit is unfortunately blunted somewhat due to the film’s shallow treatment of Rinku and Dinesh.
Disney neither struck out nor hit a home run with this film. It just should’ve re-thought its strategy before it stepped up to the plate.
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