Million Dollar Arm

Directed By: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Allyn Rachel, and Alan Arkin

I'm not a fan of splitting up the finale of a movie or a television show.  It's just another way for studios to milk the proverbial cash cow.  There was no real need for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2.  There was no need for seasons 5A and 5B of Breaking Bad.  There's no need for two The Hunger Games: Mockingjay films.  Studios should just do it all in one go rather than drag out a finale and slowly drain the momentum out of a franchise or series.  Given that Jon Hamm is in the midst of seasons 7A and 7B of the beloved hit Mad Men, he's all too familiar with this money-grubbing phenomenon.  However, the always controversial Don Draper seems to be cashing in on his Mad Men success in a different way with this weekend's Million Dollar Arm.

JB Bernstein (Hamm) and his company Seven Figures Management are struggling.  Several years ago, JB and his colleague Aash (Aasif Mandvi) went out on their own to start a boutique agency to manage athletic talent.  At the time, they had quite a few big name clients bringing in big revenues.  As time has marched onward, however, those athletes have retired, and Seven Figures Management has been getting very little new revenue.  When they put their hopes into a rising football star named Popo (Rey Maualuga), they find nothing but disappointment as Popo opts to go with their much larger rival ProCorp.  To survive, the company needs a cash infusion, soon.

Desperate for business, JB comes up with a crazy idea while watching cricket.  He wants to go to India and launch a competition to find pitchers whom he could train and get signed to contracts with Major League Baseball.  Once he has the backing of a wealthy benefactor named Chang (Tzi Ma), JB goes to India to launch what becomes known as Million Dollar Arm.  With the help of an old sleepy scout named Ray (Alan Arkin) and an eager Indian named Amit (Pitobash), JB embarks on a journey to find India's first athletes in a major American sport.  Whoever wins the $100,000 grand prize and the $10,000 second prize will return to Los Angeles where they will be trained by Coach Tom House (Bill Paxton).  Eventually, JB comes across Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Kumar Patel (Madhur Mittal).  The rest is history.  Meanwhile, a romance brews between JB and the tenant in his pool house Brenda (Lake Bell) courtesy of broken washer machines.

Million Dollar Arm is undoubtedly a feel-good movie.  We've got an inspirational story of two boys realizing dreams they never fathomed against all odds.  We've got a self-centered character who learns the value of family and enjoying the world around him.  We've got a schmaltzy romance that plays completely as expected.  There's nothing wrong with any of this.  Sometimes you need a "Disneyfied" movie that does exactly this.  Sometimes you need a simpler film.  In the early weeks of the summer blockbuster season, I've got no major complaints with Million Dollar Arm.  If it had considerably more depth, however, it could have been the next great baseball movie.  If he had pushed how groundbreaking and game-changing this competition really is, director Craig Gillespie could have had the next Moneyball on his hands.  As it stands, we’ve just got a good film on ours.

What makes Million Dollar Arm work is not strong writing or an innate passion for the game of baseball but the chemistry of Craig Gillespie's cast.  For his part as our lead JB Bernstein, Jon Hamm channels his inner Don Draper and gives us a businessman with a good pitch.  A sports agent living the high life, Hamm's JB comes to learn what really matters in life as he becomes the patriarch of one unconventional family.  This isn't exactly a groundbreaking performance from the Mad Men star, but it gets the job done.  For her part as Hamm's romantic interest Brenda, Lake Bell is a breath of fresh air.  The In a World... star is always there to point JB in the right direction and offers heartwarming words of encouragement on more than one occasion in the film.

The supporting cast members do quite well on screen as well.  Aasif Mandvi delivers plenty of comic relief as JB's colleague Ash, while Bill Paxton offers plenty of words of wisdom as Coach Tom House.  Spending most of his time sleeping on camera to comedic effect, the great Alan Arkin is a little wasted as elder scout Ray but still manages to offer the occasional chuckle.  Amongst this heavy-hitting cast, the real breakout performers of the film are Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, and Pitobash as Rinku, Dinesh, and Amit respectively.  They each bring some real complexity to their characters who must leave their homes, adjust to life in America, and learn the game of baseball.  In conveying the personal, internal challenges that come along with all of this, they each do extremely well.  They even manage to provide plenty of comic relief in the process.

I have plenty of good things to say about Million Dollar Arm.  I've got my fair share of criticisms as well.  What surprisingly remains after having seen the film is my love for its soundtrack.  A. R. Rahman does an excellent job crafting music that will leave you tapping your feet throughout the movie.  There are some really nice cuts on his soundtrack.  All in all, the feel-good sports comedy-drama Million Dollar Arm gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.