Million Dollar Arm tells the true story of two Indian teenagers' journey to Major League Baseball with the help of a reality contest and a sports agent. Disney takes this story and throws it into their feel-good, fish out of water, inspirational sports movie factory to produce a formulaic, predictable yet charming and ultimately endearing film.
As a baseball fan I was more interested in the story and process than the film. If there is one thing MLB has always been at the cusp of is harvesting cheap talent from across the globe. If you look at any Major League roster you will see participants from around the world. They send scouts to all corners and build training facilities for sole purpose of developing young inexpensive prospects and establishing a global consumer base.
In this case struggling sports agent Jamie “JB” Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is looking for a product he can sell, when Susan Boyle triggers an idea. His motivations are simple, open up a new consumer base for baseball in India, find talent and bundle this narrative into something he can sell to the North American media and use that exposure to kick start his struggling agency. This will turn these players into stars and baseball heroes in India and, hopefully, the inspiration for people all over India to start playing baseball and buy all types of MLB apparel. The movie itself is a natural progression of this idea.
Not the most noble of intentions, but everyone needs to pay the rent.
Million Dollar Arm is exactly the film you expect from the studio that released Invincible, Miracle and Remember the Titans and it earns a place in that catalogue of films. Most people are going to enjoy it, there’s a fun charming vibe always working in the films favor - it's a well made movie, made by clearly talented people. It has your white guy first time in India jokes and reverse when the film shifts to Los Angeles and used to maximum comedy effect. Not groundbreaking humor; standard bathroom and vomit jokes - but they make you laugh.
The cast shines throughout, director Craig Gillespie did a great job of casting funny/self-deprecating actors without turning the characters into a mockery. Jon Hamm reminds everyone that he will have no trouble transitioning from TV to the A-list when 'Mad Men' is finished, Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal play the the contest winners and are sneaky great. It wasn’t till I watched an ESPN Outside the Lines segment on the real life baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel that I appreciated the actors performances. Lake Bell plays the obligatory female-love interest/moral compass for JB and a makeshift mom for the boys and she does it well. There is a genuine decency to her that leaks through without being preachy or a nag. Hollywood character actors Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton show up every now and then to do what they do and the film is better for it.
Ultimately, Million Dollar Arm isn’t the best sports movie but if you like this genre and are not somewhat entertained by the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise journey the movie takes you on, it might say more about you than it does the movie. The movie addresses the exploitative nature of the relationship JB has with Rinku and Dinesh - but it's easy enough to look past. There is a genuine heart to the movie, everyone wants everyone else to succeed and the audience is left to cheer for ending we all know is coming.