Monday 9 June 2014

Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)

Based on the true story of the first two men from India to be signed to Major League Baseball contracts, Million Dollar Arm is vanilla filmmaking at its most flavourless.

In Los Angeles, J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent struggling to find new clients. His business partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi), a big fan of cricket, is growing despondent about J.B.'s chances of achieving success. J.B. rents out his garden lodge to medical student Brenda (Lake Bell) but has no desire to pursue a romance with her: he is more interested in airheaded models. Close to reaching the end of his financial rope, J.B. decides to run a "Million Dollar Arm" talent search in India to find cricket bowlers who can be converted to baseball pitchers.

He travels to India and along with crusty scout Ray (Alan Arkin) tours the country for months in search of talent. They finally find two strong-armed prospects in Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), as well as aspiring baseball coach Amit (Pitobash Tripathy). Upon returning to the US, Rinku and Dinesh are sent to work with respected coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) in preparation for a major league tryout, but converting two Indian villagers into top tier pitching prospects will be no easy task.

Produced by Disney Studios, Million Dollar Arm is a well-meaning but strictly linear story, blandly produced, targeted at a family audience and containing little that is memorable. The Tom McCarthy script tries to wring some drama out of a true life underdog story, but the film just lands with the dull thud of vapidity. Everything that happens on the screen can be foreseen well in advance, and the occasional tense moments are of the strictly contrived variety.

Director Craig Gillespie runs through the usual scenes of India as a crowded, smelly, chaotic and yet majestically charming place, and back in Los Angeles he predictably finds a discouraging low point for J.B., Rinku and Dinesh before steering the film towards an exaggerated climax of success. Jon Hamm does his best as the main character to provide some depth to J.B.. The sports agent goes through an evolution from slick operator to caring big brother, and although it's all too sudden as a realistic change of direction, Hamm is able to convey some empathy and grow into a more rounded human being by the film's end. Sharma and Tripathy are likeable as the young Indian men transported from obscurity to a shot at the majors, but Lake Bell is merely adequate as the literal girl next door Brenda who eventually points J.B. in the right direction. Alan Arkin plays a cartoonish variant of the grizzled baseball talent scout, and Bill Paxton is in too few scenes for too short a time to matter.

Million Dollar Arm is wholesome entertainment, but it is also strictly minor league.

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