Inspiring true story of the first Indian players recruited for Major League Baseball, hampered by a number of redundant scenes of them adapting to America but emotionally touching nonetheless. Million Dollar Arm has Jon Hamm as a sports agent who comes up with the idea of recruiting cricket players from India to pitch for American baseball. He goes to India to set up a contest, with many older teens throwing sloppily until he narrows the field. Two are worthy, and he takes them back to America for training with the goal of letting them attend a try-out camp. Hamm, as the real-life JB Bernstein, goes from cynical flamed out sports agent to a redeemed life and career.
The film has one amazing aspect that is sustained for a half hour. That would be India itself, which takes JB to the cities of Mumbai and Goa in the quest for talent. I’ve been to India twice, so yes, I know it’s all accurate. And beyond the ordinary for a Disney produced film to go this far and be so candid about the scenery and exotic behaviors.
I attest to you it’s true, that all locals would actually attend the Million Dollar Arm contest and make a gala out of it with dancing girls in saris. The atmosphere and feel for India has rarely been captured better. Even the incessant car honking (really, it’s true) is part of everyday life. The outskirts of families living in hovels, and how the parents don’t understand why the kids want to venture to the foreignness of America, is very real. If “Slumdog Millionaire” was exciting but over-frenzied – it’s still great cinema – then “Million Dollar Arm” gets the everyday realities right.
Anybody fascinated by India shouldn’t miss this film. Not bad, but more conventional, are the scenes back in America with loudmouth JB trying to cut a deal with an NFL player to save his business and failing to attend to his new Indian boys’ needs. Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal (as prospects Rinku and Dinesh) are out of their element in America, limited in the English language, uncertain how to act among white people, baffled by technology, and homesick. I liked them as actors, but when we see documentary footage at the end of the film the real Indian players that made it into the Majors had more meat on their arms.
JB doesn’t get how alienated these boys are, but his guest house renter and budding love interest Brenda (Lake Bell) gets him to be more compassionate. I figured it was a manufactured relationship for the sake of the movie, but the end credits also reveal they became a real life couple. There are good performances, too, by Aasif Mandvi as JB’s business partner, Pitobash as an Indian assistant and interpreter, and Bill Paxton as a baseball couch with endurable patience. You can’t fault the movie for shallow characterizations (exception: Alan Arkin’s grumpy baseball scout is the opposite of remarkable).
But if there’s one thing holding me back from loving this movie is that we get too much of the fish out of water bit, and that once we’re with these scenes we miss India. Hamm also plays JB as a greedy jerk with too conventional an arc into sensitive good guy. Nevertheless, “Million Dollar Arm” is worth a trip to the theater.
124 Minutes. Rated PG.
SPORTS DRAMA / BIO PICS / WEEKEND MATINEE