As sports-underdog movies go, Million Dollar Arm isn’t bad. It’s based on a true story that baseball fans may already know, but it benefits from a strong performance by Jon Hamm in the lead and a top-notch supporting cast. I expected something a little less on-the-nose from director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and screenwriter Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor); that’s the harshest criticism I can level at this long but likable mainstream movie.
Hamm plays real-life sports agent JB Bernstein, a superficial, self-absorbed fellow whose business is falling apart. He and his partner (Aasif Mandvi) decide that the only way to avoid being scooped in signing young talent is to find their own, in the most unlikely place: India. They stage a high-profile competition to find the country’s most talented boys, then bring them to USC baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) to train them, on an accelerated schedule, to be ready for scouting season. Bernstein ignores the human equation in all of this and is blind to the fact that he has uprooted two unworldly young men and left them adrift in Los Angeles, which couldn’t be more removed from the close-knit villages they’ve left behind. Suraj Sharma, from Life of Pi, and Madhur Mittal, from Slumdog Millionaire, are perfectly cast as the would-be baseball stars. Lake Bell is very likable as Hamm’s neighbor/ tenant, and Alan Arkin continues to dominate the pigeonhole of crusty older characters—in this case, an experienced scout who advises Hamm.
While it doesn’t break any new ground, Million Dollar Arm does provide Jon Hamm with a good starring vehicle—and an unconventional character who isn’t terribly likable. It tells its story well and, being a PG-rated Disney film, should entertain an underserved audience.