Disney has a record of making the mushiest and sappy movies there exist. I believe they could even make Freddy Kruger look like a ‘misunderstood little boy” and Agent Smith as a lonely little orphaned virus. With movies like Glory Road, The Greatest Game Ever Played, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Angels in the Outfield, Mighty Ducks trilogy and a horde of others, Disney has a monopoly on family sports movies. Million Dollar Arm is right of this same production line.
The movie (a true story) centers around Sports Agent J.B. Bernstein (played by the very talented Jon Hamm), who is on the edge of losing big time on his career! As a last ditch effort to save his business, JB while watching television late one night gets inspired by seeing Susan Boyle (an underdog coming out of nowhere) to find “The Million Dollar Arm”- an idea to find pitchers of Baseball from our Cricket loving country, based on the fact that bowling and pitching require more or less the same muscles. After a torturous and evidently tiresome ordeal, he eventually finds his diamonds in the rough; Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma, of the Life of Pi fame) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal of the Slumdog Millionaire fame). He asks them to pack up their belongings, leave everything behind and come with him to the US of A so that they can be molded into the perfect pitching machines under the guidance of Tom House (Bill Paxton) with his unorthodox coaching techniques.
Now JB is all “show me the money!” and the kids are lost in space/translation/technology and pizza. Enter Brenda (the beautiful Lake Bell) who is a doctor and stays as a tenant in JB’s smaller bungalow. She acts as the mediator between the two and makes the boys feel at home and tries to show JB the error of his ways in not taking proper care of the boys who have given up so much to be with JB for nothing more than a ‘dream’.
Will J.B. discover his paternal instinct and give his players the attention and nurturing they need to succeed? Will the scruffy rookies blow it on their first public tryout only to get a second chance to shine? Will skirt-chasing J.B. discover that Brenda has been his soul-mate all along? Gosh, what do you think? *starts biting nails*
Craig Gillespie who started off well with Lars and the Real Girl (personally I believe that was more Ryan Gosling than anything else) has done a decent job here as well. What he gets right is his complete focus on the all-encompassing theme, and the fish-out-of-water aspect to the entire story. Mick Ciardi and Gordon Grey (the team that put together Invincibles and Miracle) are back to make another sports-family-underdogs-true story-mush movie together. And as expected this one is as good as those.
Jon Hamm plays a role worthy enough for an Oscar nod, but I guess if this movie came a little later in the year his chances might have been a tad better. Our two Indian players, Rinku and Dinesh are probably the stars of the show. Lake Bell plays the neighbor/love interest for JB and does a fantastic job as the mediator between JB and the boys. But a special noteworthy performance is for the scene-stealer is Pitobash, who’s supremely effective in each one of his scenes. Pitobash plays Amit, a translator for the boys, JB’s man Friday and wannabe coach of baseball who has an undying love for the game. His character is written broadly, but through sheer charisma Pitobash muscles his way from punchline to fully realized character. He draws the majority of the pic’s laughs and in the end delivers the ‘motivational speech’ that makes or breaks most sports movies.
I love movies like Rudy, We Are the Titans, and Miracle, though my personal all-time favorite is Friday Night Lights. And yes, they are all predictable.
So the next question is, ‘Is this a predictable sports movie?’ Of course it is! The events of this movie took place just a few years though I am pretty sure most of us wouldn’t have known about this at all. But the movie is less about the sport and focuses (as all Disney movies do) more on relationships and that comes out pretty well.
As a whole, Million Dollar Arm was a good movie, but not nearly as spectacular as other movies of the genre. There is also a remote feeling that the only reason this movie was made was so Disney could sell a movie to India.
Still, this “based on a true story” underdog tale is infectiously determined to make you fall in love with it, like a dog that plops its head in your lap and gazes at you until you scratch it behind the ears. You cease to cave in, but try as you might you will eventually give in and scratch the poor fellow. I’d recommend you give this a watch though it’s preferred you watch this at home as a theatre doesn’t really justify the expenditure.