Anyone who has seen John Hamm guesting on Saturday Night Live or “30 Rock” knows he’s a funny guy – charming, self-deprecating, and delightful. The good folks at Walt Disney Pictures must have had that in mind when casting Hamm in “Million Dollar Arm”, but their effort to remake his image as ad exec Don Draper on “Mad Men” just doesn’t quite work. Hamm may not be wearing the suit, but he wears Draper’s dour expression throughout most of the movie.
Based on a true story, “Arm” follows JB Bernstein (Hamm), a once-successful sports agent who now finds himself edged out by bigger, slicker competitors. He and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) will have to close their business down for good if JB doesn’t come up with something fast. Late one night, while watching cricket being played in India on TV, JB comes up with an idea so radical it just might work. Why not go there and find the next baseball pitching sensation?
Setting off for Mumbai with nothing but a cantankerous scout (Alan Arkin) in tow, JB stages a televised, nationwide competition called “Million Dollar Arm” where 40,000 hopefuls compete before two 18-year-old finalists, Rinku and Dinesh (Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal), emerge as winners. JB brings them back to the United States to train with legendary pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton). The goal: get the boys signed to a major league team. Not only is the game, and American culture difficult to master, but life in the U.S. with a committed bachelor makes things even more complicated for all of them.
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel’s rise from the slums of India to become professional baseball players is a terrific true-life story, and when things center around them and Amit, a young Indian assistant who volunteers in the hopes of a future in the game, “Arm” is loads of fun. But “Million Dollar Arm” is as much, if not more about Bernstein, and he’s just not a very sympathetic character for most of the movie.
Clearly Disney was going for a connection to a certain 2008 Academy Award® winning film. Indian kids from the slums. Check. Use of the word “Million” in the title. Check. But, the comparisons to “Slumdog Millionaire” end there. The only reasons to see “Million Dollar Arm” are the performances from Suraj Sharma as Rinku, Madhur Mittal (“Slumdog Millionaire”) as Dinesh, and the delightful Bollywood Actor, Pitobash, as Amit. Hopefully, they’ll get a better vehicle next time.
No home run, “Million Dollar Arm” doesn’t make it past second base.
The Bottom Line: “Million Dollar Arm” is a pleasant diversion on a summer evening, but not worth the $10 ticket price. If you want to see a good movie about a sports agent, rent “Jerry Maguire”.
PG, for mild language and suggestive content. 2 hr. 4 min.