Million Dollar Arm: Movie Review
Cast: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Lake Bell, Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharma, Bill Paxton
Director: Craig Gillespie
It's Slumdog Jerry Maguire in this latest from the Disney stable, which is based on a true story.
Mad Men star Jon Hamm is JB Bernstein, a sports agent whose repertoire of talent is waning and whose business is facing potential ruin due to a lack of big star names on his books. Along with his friend Aash (Mandvi), the two are looking at disaster.
But, when JB hits on the idea of merging a talent contest with the hunt for an Indian cricketer who could turn his arm to baseball, suddenly the world opens up.
So, heading to India, with a cranky retired scout (with a performance pretty much phoned in by Alan Arkin) in tow, JB's dream looks like becoming reality after initially disastrous try-outs when he comes across two with potential, Dinesh and Rinku (Slumdog Millionaire's Mittal and Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma).
However, shifting them back to the USA to be tutored by Bill Paxton's baseball coach, throws up more problems than JB could have predicted, leading him closer to the abyss - both on a personal and professional front.
Million Dollar Arm had some real potential as it came out swinging onto the screen.
It's your typical underdog, sports story and should, in theory, have hit a home run.
But it's marred by some incredibly lazy, borderline racist, stereotyping that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. Its patronising and condescending Americanised view of Indian life and their habits is quite uncomfortable in places and provokes worry that it'll create unrealistic expectations of foreigners within some audiences and propagate some stereotypes.
That distastefulness aside, this way too long fish-out-of-water story does have its moments when it works; more notably in the quieter times and in the interactions of Dinesh and Rinku. There's a sentimentality and softness to their feelings and reactions to life around them that's entirely plausible and isn't milked by Gillespie for maximum effect (unlike anything else to do with their culture and heritage.)
Hamm's reasonable enough as the nonchalant facade begins to fade, though he lacks the powerwatt performance of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire to keep you rooting for him. Perhaps, that's intentional, but Hamm doesn't overdeliver on the personal crumbling and falling apart path that he's inevitably got to tread. A romance with his house tenant (played by Lake Bell) starts off as a little implausible but gradually wins you over with her down-to-earth viewpoint cutting through his sports BS.
Skewing noticeably older, Million Dollar Arm is a queasy piece of film-making. Its sickly sentimentality rubs rather oddly up against the uncomfortable stereotyping within and left me feeling more angry than inspired.