Movie Review: “Million Dollar Arm”

ImageImageJon Hamm plays the straight man to a trio of young Indian actors and
Oscar-winning curmudgeon Alan Arkin in “Million Dollar Arm,” a comically thin
“true story” of a sports agent trying to turn Indian cricket bowlers into Major
League Baseball pitchers.
J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) is just another shark in the sea of LA sports agents,
better at keeping up appearances than attracting or hanging on to talent. But he
may have to give up his swank house, his Porsche, his office and his partner
(Aasif Mandvi) if he can’t hurl a Hail Mary pass that will save them all.
Channel surfing one night, he has a brain storm. Those guys who hurl cricket
balls at the wicket in India look just enough like pitchers that maybe they can
be taught America’s National Pastime.
J.B. pitches a billionaire sponsor on the idea of cracking the Indian market
— holding tryouts, all over India, televising it as an “India’s Got Talent”
show, only for baseball. All he needs is one or two prospects, one “Million
Dollar Arm,” and with a bit of coaching, maybe he can get baseball’s first
Indian star signed to a major league team.
So J.B. drags a retired, cranky scout (Alan Arkin) and a radar gun to India,
and they both sweat and steam and learn how things work — or don’t work — in
the chaotic capitalism of India.
A cricket bowler must keep his arm straight, unbent. That’s why they sprint
as they throw the ball, to achieve velocity. It’s a totally different motion
from pitching a baseball.
That’s why Arkin brings exactly what you’d expect to the grizzled Ray. Ray
dozes through this dubious hunt. He doesn’t even open his eyes at the various
regional tryouts.
“I can HEAR it.”
Hear what? The thump of ball into mitt. Ray is the skeptic who needs to be
convinced, finally, by a few live arms, that the whole enterprise isn’t a fool’s
errand.
“You know what they call that?” he growls, at the sound of something over 80,
85 miles per hour. “Juice!”
Director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) goes out of his way not
to offend in the Indian scenes, courting the Indian market the way J.B.
envisions baseball reaching out to the Subcontinent. But comedy is meant to
offend, so that’s a problem. And once three Indian lads come home to live with
J.B. and train with a college coach (Bill Paxton), the strain of not being
patronizing shows.
Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal play the best prospects, and a funny,
diminutive actor named Pitobash plays Amit, brought along as translator. The
culture clash in India gives way to the REAL fish out of water stories as the
lads gawk at empty American opulence, from J.B.’s sports car to his luxurious
home to the sweet, gorgeous med student (Lake Bell) renting his guest
cottage.
As in “Jerry Maguire,” the callous, eyes-on-the-dollar-prize agent has to
learn responsibility and compassion (from the med student), to understand that
“this game is supposed to be fun” and figure out their Eastern ways.
“That’s our shrine, Mr. J.B., sir,” Amit explains when J.B. bristles at the
candles, icons and incense. “Where do you pray, Mr. J.B., sir?”
Hamm plays J.B. too buttoned down to make him interesting. Even when things
go badly, the guy keeps it together — admirable in a human being, or agent, bad
for comedy. Arkin is barely in the film. And the Indian guys are never more than
cute borderline caricatures.
And dawdling along as it does, “Million Dollar Arm” rarely shows us the
“juice,” a baseball comedy that is as tentative as a base on balls.

MPAA Rating: PG for mild language and some suggestive content
Cast: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Aasif Mandvi
Credits: Directed by Craig Gillespie, screenplay by Thomas McCarthy. A Walt
Disney release.
Running time: 2:04

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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