Review: Million Dollar Arm
The softest of edges and the most formulaic of paths are given to Million Dollar Arm, a true sports story from Disney that isn’t really about sports, but instead a high value, light-hearted drama to bring everyone together and stir the soul.
Jon Hamm doesn’t quite have the enthusiasm of Jerry Maguire or the charm of Tom Cruise, but nonetheless, he is once-rich sports agent J.B. Bernstein struggling to land the next big contract that will help him continue living a life of luxury (and presumably continue getting models to sleep with him).
Despite a condescending dismissal of the sport of cricket – it’s one of many of those, “this-is-different-so-it’s-funny” kind of jokes – JB and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi, and good for him!) decide that India has to have a young and strong arm capable of playing Major League Baseball.
So starts the contest, ‘Million Dollar Arm,’ where JB heads to India searching for professional success. Wouldn’t you know it; there may be some personal growth as well.
What proceeds is all rather paint-by-numbers. Let’s start with the attractive and laid-back nurse Brenda (Lake Bell) living in his guest house whose warm heart may just melt the cold exterior of a steely sports agent – for reasons unknown, they start to correspond while he is away.
Then there is Alan Arkin, here playing Alan Arkin, an irascible old scout who sleeps a lot and pretends he isn’t playing attention but really knows all.
We’ve also Bill Paxton as yet another figure (coach) who is really smart but has a bit of a tough exterior, though maybe he will soften too.
Then we’ve our two young India contestant winners, Dinesh and Rinku, who aspire to support their families and make their country proud, but are thrust out of their element and not really understood at all by JB. The fast-talking agent doesn’t have a family (and as mentioned, sleeps with a lot of models), so he is unsure as to how to take care of his new recruits in a story that is more familial drama, but one so incidental and careful it makes The Blindside look like Any Given Sunday.
JB even dismisses the earnest and eager Amit, who knows he can’t play ball but wants nothing more than to help JB on in Indian expedition. The trio of Indian actors are the most entertaining part of a film that does offer laughs, but definitely doesn’t work hard for them.
JB alternates between being slightly annoyed and losing his sanity throughout the film, and as we know his character arc will eventually be completed, yet as it’s forced, it’s hard to get involved. In fact, director Craig Gillespie’s film is so cookie-cutter that what should really be offensive and aggravating just elicits indifference. It’s not that the production is procedural; it’s that MDA cuts corners and crams too many (familiar) plot devices together.
Million Dollar Arm isn’t a sports movies, nor is it that kind of sports movie that isn’t really about sports – it’s not about anything other than generic ideas of human growth and compassion and the comforting hope that everyone is inherently good and all will work itself out.
It’s a lukewarm film that tepidly ruffles feathers in order to have something from which to create a meaningful and happy ending. Granted, that ending, albeit abrupt, is enjoyable, but it sure takes a long and familiar road to get there. Which I suppose isn’t unlike watching any baseball game itself.