Film audiences (including myself) love a feel-good “based on a true story” sports movie. Rudy, The Blind Side and one of my favorites, Cool Runnings turned reality into box office dollars and the affection of fans towards the real story given a Hollywood makeover. Next up on the true life sports movie express is Disney’s Million Dollar Arm starring the mad man himself, John Hamm. I doubt, however, many people are familiar with the real life international pitching contest this film is based on.
Hamm plays a JB in Million Dollar Arm, a down on his luck sports agent who’s trying to keep his agency out of the red. While JB is having a few drinks and feeling sorry himself (which Hamm is accustomed to as Don Draper), he comes up with the next million dollar idea. JB will travel to India in an attempt to convert a cricket player into a major league baseball pitcher in an American Idol like pitch-off. Thus, the fish out of water story starts for both JB in the first half of the film and the winners of the contest who travel to sunny California for a MLB tryout.
As I stated before, I love a good feel-good sports movie and Million Dollar Arm does have its moments. The problem is the filmmakers try to cram too much story into the two-hour plus running time. The India portion of the movie feels rushed with a good part of the cultural clash potential being left out of Million Dollar Arm. The time to develop these contestants is too rushed as well, which inhibits the audience from being vested in their achievements. Then when the Indian prospects crash JB’s bachelor lifestyle in LA, things get a little bland and cliché with the Donnybrook of mishaps by the duo played by Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire‘s Madhur Mittal.
Between the Disney feel-good cheese cinema and the subtitles, which is a good portion of the dialogue on-screen, Million Dollar Arm almost lost me. You notice I said “almost”. That’s because the acting helps keep Million Dollar Arm from falling below the Mendoza line on film. John Hamm is made to play the slick sports agent who is reluctant to change in both his business and personal life. Hamm brings so much charisma to the role it raises the average of the sub par script.
Even though Sharma and Mittal are quiet roles in the film, you still feel for the boys who become deers in the headlights when the spotlight is shined on them. Throw in the underrated Bill Paxton as a USC pitching guru and you have a cast that manages to keep Million Dollar Arm out of the bottom of the lineup when it comes to sports movies. Million Dollar Arm is not without its problems, especially with the pace and the script and The Blind Side – it is not, but it will still give you some inspiration to follow a dream if you have it.
Overall, I give Million Dollar Arm 2.5 out of 4 stars.
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