Several weeks ago EllaFunksGerald and I had advanced screening tickets to see Million Dollar Arm. I had never heard of it, but never being one to turn down a free movie, we went to see it anyway. And as we left the theater, I thoughts to myself Man, I'm glad that was free.
That isn't to say it's a bad movie, it's just…..not really memorable or exciting or makes you think of it after you leave the theater….but NOT bad. First off its Disney and live action. These two things go as well together as a brony and Glenn Beck. Disney live action has a long and rather uneven history. For every Treasure Island, there's an Old Dogs. For every Pirates of the Caribbean…there's another Pirates of the Caribbean. I swear they'll have Johnny Depp on strings like the mother and son from those horrible Direct TV commercials after he dies to keep pumping these films out Weekend at Bernie's style. But I digress
One thing Disney has done well is sports movies. The Mighty Ducks,Remember The Titans, Angels In The Outfield. These are quality films that have a way of knowing how to use sports to affect the audience's emotions. We use sports as a narrative for overcoming adversity. We want the underdog to win, for the big bad black hat coach with all the money and power to get beat by the plucky underdogs. That's usually not what happens in the real world. No kids, Central Florida State with its $10 football budget is not beating USC, no matter how many power of friendship speeches they give. But movies can do that for us. And so, we have another in a long line of sports films. Only this one forgoes the team and focuses on individuals,
The movie's main character (I'm loath to call him the hero) is sports agent J.B Bernstein, played by Mad Men star Jon Hamm. He's trying to think of some way to get a big client after a football player who he was hoping to sign to a big contract walks after he can't pay a million dollar signing bonus. Because who doesn't have that kind of money free, am I right? He's understandably desperate and tried to come up with a plan to keep from going under with his partner Ash, played by the once again under used Aasif Mandiv . I suppose he doesn't have to read Shamalyan dialogue like in The Last Airbender, so that's a plus. But this is serious waste of Assif Mandiv in his prime. Since this is a sports film, let me just say they need to get the GM to make some kind of trade. Maybe trade Jon Hamm for Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba's expiring contract. I don't think even the Lakers could pull that off. I also realized I bludgeoned the metaphor to death, so let's move it.
After watching some cricket with Ash, J.B has the idea of getting a couple of cricket players and turning them into pitchers. It would expand baseball into India, a market it didn't have a lot of success tapping into, and would be a big score for his agency if the players can get signed to a contract with a Major League Baseball team. Ash is skeptical but goes along with the plan because, well why not? It's not like they have any other great ideas. They come up with the idea for Million Dollar Arm, a contest they would do in India to find two candidates who would win money and get to chance to earn a tryout with a major league team. With funding from a businessman named Chang, they find a coach from USC named Tom House up for the challenge to turning cricket players into baseball players. J.B flies to India where he meets up with scout Ray (Alan Arkin), a lovable curmudgeon who has an amazing ability to judge pitchers without actually looking at them. It works for the New York Jets offense; I suppose it can work for baseball. After several days of travel around the country the contest ends with two winners, Rinku Singh, played by Suraj Sharma who had a breakout role as Pi in Life of Piand Dinest Patel, played by Madhur Mittal, until now best known forSlumdog Millionaire. The two say goodbye to their families and depart, ready to start their new lives in America.
Now if it seems like I rushed over that part, it's because the movie does as well. I would guess, without looking at the runtime, almost 1/3 of the film is in India, yet it feels like it's rushed through. We do meet another character, a young man named Amit Rohan, who becomes the translator for the two young men. We learn that neither of them actually play cricket; per Wikipedia Rinku did play javelin and cricket but in the movie it was just javelin. But that's not a big deal; changes get made all the time in these kinds of films. And it's Wikipedia saying this, which if I wanted to could make Derek Jeter into a 5 toe worshipper of Bhaal which is such a total lie. We all know Jeter worships Mephistopheles.
It is during this part where we get to see the movie's strength, the interaction between the two pitchers. The two actors who play Rinku and Denish are wonderful together and play off each other marvelously. When they are with Amit as well it works, the three fish out of water trying to understand this strange culture they are in. It works well because the actors work so well together that you are drawn in to their trials and their story. Yet this is where the film makes a key blunder; it thinks we actually care about Jon Hamm.
I will say upfront I have not watched a lot of Mad Men, so I don't know if Jon is a good actor. But he is very square jawed and rather bland in this movie, which may be good for someone coming off playing an emotional reserved ad executive from the 1960s. I don't think he's terrible and the character isn't bad per say. They just didn't need to make the movie about him. But when Rinku and Denish get kicked out of the hotel they are in for the night before their first practice, it's decided they would stay with J.B……ok movie let's stop for a second and think this over.
Why didn't they have a chaperone? I mean you have three people who are now your employees basically who you've brought over from another country to work for you. They are confused and probably missing home since neither has probably been more than a day away from their village. So you leave them along in a hotel without any supervision? Did they run out of money? Did Chang say "I'll give you money for travel expenses, equipment, and food yada yada…BUT NO CHAPARONES? ONCE THEY ARE IN AMERICA THEY ARE ON THEIR OWN!"
Why not get another hotel? I'll admit I'm writing this a while after I've seen the movie but I remember his first plan to be having Ash look after them.
If hotel is out of the picture, why not see if USC has space? Heck USC got a nice plug during this movie, surely they could have worked it in more by having a chance to show off their amazing student housing.
Well the reason why none of those things come up is because that would prevent them from suddenly having to stay with J.B. You see, the movie wants us to think it's about Hamm's character growing up through his trials and tribulations of suddenly having to raise these boys (both of whom were at least 18 when the contest occurred). It's how it grows and changes as a man through these two. Well frankly that's all well and good but really I don't care. I want to see how Rinku and Denish grow and change through their interactions with Hamm and with their time in America. That is a far more interesting story but that's not the one the movie wants to show.
The rest of the movie is pretty standard Disney fare. There's a overly dramatized tryout, a montage, a sad moment, a moment of triumph, a b.s hand wave plot device, a magic monologue, etc. I won't spoil it but you can find Rinku and Denish's real life info on Wikipedia. I don't recommend it though. Put it this way, it's like watching The Blind Side after you find out Michael Oehr just signed with the Tennesse Titans.
Overall I give the movie 2 Dustin Pedroia rookie cards out of 5. It's not a terrible movie and if you can see it for cheap like on Redbox or a 2ndRun Theater it might be worth it.
It makes for a light date movie that you'll enjoy but won't really remember after leaving the theater.
The characters are likeable enough, even Hamm who is never unlikable once he starts to get some character development. It's really the two pitchers who steal the show for me. The supporting cast is good; Arkin plays a grumpy but knowledgably scout well, Chet from Weird Science is good as the coach with the unorthodox coaching style. Lake Bell is pretty much wasted, as Grant Brisbee from wrote she's "a manic pixie dream girl who never comes close to passing theBechdel test and exists only to teach Hamm about life and make him feel better."
Let's be honest, how often do you see the Bedchel Test and MPDG mentioned in the same sentence on a sports blog? The movie also has many baseball writers playing scouts in non-dialogue cameos so if you're a huge fan of Jason Stark or Ken Rosenthal, well then this is the summer blockbuster for you.