Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)

Posted: May 24, 2014 in Comedy, Romance

million dollar arm

JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent, venturing out on his own to start his own sports management agency, with his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi).  He has represented stars like Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders, but they have long since retired.  JB is looking to sign a lineman named Popo (Ray Maualuga) but Popo signs with another agent, so JB is left with no clients, and no prospects.  While watching a cricket match and Britain’s Got Talent, JB hatches an idea to sign an Indian baseball player, and turn it into a reality contest, called Million Dollar Arm.  After finding a crotchety, old, retired baseball scout named Ray, (Alan Arkin) JB heads to India to find his prospects.  He and Ray find 20 prospects, and whittle it down to two, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Maddhur Mittal) and a translator named Amit (Pitobash) who dreams of being a baseball coach.  Together, the four go back to Los Angeles, where pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton agrees to work with Rinku and Dinesh, and they have a year to get a tryout, or the deal with their financier, Chang (Tzi Ma) falls through.  Do Rinku and Dinesh succeed?  Is JB more interested in the deal or in Rinku or Dinesh as people?

Disney is marketing this movie as a cross between Slumdog Millionaire and Jerry Maguire.  It is very much like Jerry Maguire, but it’s more like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, because the Brits are openly contemptuous of India and Indians much like JB is, but gradually a transformation occurs and the Brits in Marigold Hotel learn to love the country and its customs.  Does the same transformation happen here?  Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.  But let me say this Marigold Hotel is a much better movie, a much more deep and profound movie.  Maybe Million Dollar Arm is neither deep nor profound, but it is entertaining.  There are laughs to be had here, and it’s a different kind of baseball movie.  It’s fun to see two people who’ve never thrown a baseball before pick up a vital aspect of the game in such a short time.  If you don’t like baseball, this movie won’t hold much entertainment for you, and while it’s not Field of Dreams or Bull Durham, it is fun.

There’s a lot of culture clash/fish out of water humor, both with Hamm’s character and the Indian boys.  I don’t particularly enjoy fish out of water humor, and it doesn’t particularly work here, but the movie works because of the acting, and not so much the script.  Is it an entertaining movie?  Yes it is. Is it worth going to the movies to see?  No it’s not.  But it is worth the price of a rental.

Jon Hamm is good, he doesn’t stray too far from his Don Draper character, believe it or not. He plays JB as a superficial womanizer who only dates models.  He plays a “Grade A Jerk” in the words of this movie, and if I was JB Bernstein, I wouldn’t be too flattered by this portrayal. Lake Bell plays a woman who rents a room from Hamm’s character and serves as some comedy relief and eventually a love interest, but the love story is clunky.  Lake Bell reminds me of Amanda Peet, a pretty girl who’s trying too hard to be funny.  Alan Arkin plays a crusty old curmudgeon again, he seems to have found his niche.  Asif Mandvi is less funny than I thought he’d be, and therefore disappointing.

The best actors in the film are the Indian actors, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal and Pitobash as the translator.  Their natural performances add a lot of depth and emotional weight to the film.  The boys are away from home, they miss their families, but they have a once in a lifetime chance.  Their performances are complex in ways I didn’t expect.  And Pitobash shows sincerity in this performance, he really wants to learn about baseball.  He has a dream too, and he’s realizing it through his countrymen.  Bill Paxton does an excellent job as pitching coach Tom House.  He doesn’t want this to be a publicity stunt, he wants this to work for everyone involved.  Paxton plays House with a no-nonsense realism, which is refreshing.

Finally here’s a non-animated film that you can watch with your family, and it’s worth seeing.  Was Disney doing a little marketing themselves?  Selling this movie to the growing Indian community in the US and a huge international audience in India?  I didn’t see many Indian people in the audience at my theater, but it made 10 million dollars in it’ first week, not bad for a film going up against Godzilla.

Million Dollar Arm.  Making a pitch for a new audience.

  1. Deepika says:

    I am an Indian, and I did watch the movie, a Million Dollar Arm. The plot was good, and the characterization is good as well. But to your point, if Disney was trying to market more with Indians in US or even in India, I would not agree to it. Just for the fact that the way India is portrayed in each hollywood movie as a poor, dirty and undeveloped. I would defer with this conception. If you ever visit India, you would also see very Posh Hotels, restaurants etc, which is not portrayed in any of these movies, and it is frustrating when people watch such movies and end up having a one sided opinion on the background of India.
    Sorry to Rant about it on your blog space, but just airing out my opinion.

  2. Don’t be sorry, I’m interested in all points of view. That’s why I write these reviews. Feel free to comment on any post you find interesting.

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