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Million Dollar Arm

D: Craig Gillespie / 124m

Cast: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Tzi Ma

Sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) is struggling to sign that one sports superstar that will make his agency a success, but when his best chance falls through, he’s on the verge of giving up.  Then inspiration strikes from two unlikely sources: Susan Boyle’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent and televised cricket.  Creating the concept of a TV show that searches for potential baseball talent in India, particularly pitchers, J.B. eventually discovers Rinku Singh (Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Mittal), two young men with no experience or understanding at all of baseball.

J.B. brings them to the US, where as part of winning the show they undergo training for a year under the auspices of veteran coaches Ray Poitevint (Arkin) and Tom House (Paxton), but things don’t go as smoothly as J.B. had hoped, and Rinku and Dinesh struggle to come to terms with playing baseball and adjusting to their new way of life. With their prospects of being signed to a major league baseball team slipping away from them, and J.B.’s business under threat too, it all hinges on a try-out designed to show just what Rinku and Dinesh can do.

Million Dollar Arm - scene

Another true story of unlikely triumph over predictable adversity, Million Dollar Arm  – the name of the show J.B. creates – takes one of the most surprising rags to riches stories of the last ten years and gives it a bland makeover that robs it of any appreciable drama while promoting the aspirational aspects at every opportunity.  In short the movie is heavily Disney-fied, a by-the-numbers tale that treats the material with reverence but at the expense of any real emotion.  It’s a shame as Rinku and Dinesh’s story has the scope and range to allow the exploration of several wider issues, not the least of which is racism, a subject that Million Dollar Arm engages with fitfully and with obvious reluctance.

Thankfully, the cast are on hand to guide the audience through, providing assured performances – Bell, as J.B.’s lodger and love interest, steals every scene she’s in – and in the director’s chair, Gillespie musters things with enthusiasm despite the restrictions inherent in the script.  The movie is brightly lit and often gorgeous to look at – thanks to DoP Gyula Pados – and A.R. Rahman’s score is infectiously rousing and uplifting.

Rating: 5/10 – entertaining enough, though on a deliberately vapid level, Million Dollar Arm is an undemanding movie that sticks to a very rigid formula (and never lets the viewer forget it); with the outcome never in doubt, it’s left to the more than capable cast to raise this out of the doldrums it otherwise seems happy to inhabit.