Review: Million Dollar Arm

Three stars

Whether playing an advertising executive on television's "Mad Men" or a struggling sports agent in this Disney film, Jon Hamm doesn't need any help with pitching. With suave confidence, he throws marketable, high-concept ideas right into the strike zone. Hamm has what it takes. And director Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl" and "Fright Night") knows star talent when he sees it, delivering close-up after close-up of the actor who makes every moment seem authentic. After more than 15 years working primarily in television, Hamm is ready for the big-screen league.

But the baseball movie is about as predictable as a box of Cracker Jacks. The nominal prize is the heartfelt sentiment that transcends the line-up of clichés. An underdog and fish-out-of-water tale, Thomas McCarthy's ("Win Win") screenplay revolves around J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) convincing an Asian investor (Tzi Ma) to mount a contest throughout India in search of cricket players with accurate fastballs -- million dollar arms. Bernstein also persuades USC's Coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) to develop the finalists into Major League Baseball pitchers. The stakes are high for Bernstein and his partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi), who need one big client to stay in business.

Situational humor provides interest as Bernstein, accompanied by a gruff major league scout (Alan Arkin), travel to cricket-obsessed India. The two men wear poker faces and don't react to cultural differences. Instead the spectator is expected to laugh at everything from inadequate Mumbai office space to villagers bringing cows into their homes and endless Million Dollar Arm contestants throwing baseballs too slowly or completely out of control. Local baseball enthusiast Amit (Bollywood actor Pitobash) joins the search, infusing the movie with comedy and compassion.

The second half of the film takes place in Los Angeles and lacks a strong driving force. Amit and the pair of finalists, Rinku (Suraj Sharma of "Life of Pi") and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal of "Slumdog Millionaire"), move into Bernstein's bachelor pad, train for tryouts, suffer from a bad case of culture clash, and run into a rather tame worse-case scenario: If no major league team signs them, they get to return home to India and their loving families. Without a do-or-die dream, the protagonists deflate the movie's suspense.

Adhering to its tagline -- Sometimes to win, you have to change the game -- the Disney production isn't really a sports movie at all. The real story is about Bernstein transforming from a slick businessman into a human being, as the art of the deal gives way to matters of the heart, giving viewers a game changer both charming and uplifting.

Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content. In English and some Hindi with English subtitles. Two hours, four minutes.


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