Movie review 'Million Dollar Arm': Is a Million Dollar Farce

DECCAN CHRONICLE | LAKSHMI GOVINDRAJAN JAVERI
Published May 9, 2014, 8:09 pm IST
Updated Apr 1, 2019, 9:11 am IST
The movie is clean, feel good and unfortunately, also very predictable
 

Cast: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal and Alan Arkin

Director.: Craig Gillespie

Rating: **

More women would go to watch Million Dollar Arm purely for the very dishy protagonist, played by Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame. After all, if they aren’t fans of the show, then they’ve certainly read about the very magnificently endowed actor and his penchant for leaving his briefs back at home. Given that a lot was riding on Hamm’s meaty role (pun unintended), it is accurate to say that Million Dollar Arm falls well short of expectations.
 
Jon Hamm essays the role of J.B. Bernstein (JB), a cocky but slick sports agent with a ready stubble but with a firm on the verge of bankruptcy. Stumbling upon what he considers his one last chance to glory, JB decides to organise a talent search for baseball pitchers in India (an untapped country of over a billion people) and bring two such amateurs with the strongest arms for training to the US. His Indian business partner Aash, played by Aasif Mandvi, stays behind to manage the company while JB embarks on a trip to India with Ray, a talent scout. After fleeting frustrations of not finding a worthy pitcher, JB and Co. finally stumble upon Dinesh and Rinku played by Madhur Mittal (from Slumdog Millionaire) and Suraj Sharma (from Life of Pi) respectively. The film then follows the predictable path of the boys impressing, disappointing and then impressing again. JB faces pressure from his Chinese investor and looming bankruptcy, but in the end, it’s all good. In the boys’ rise to stardom is the apparent rise of JB from Resident Jerk to Lover in Chief.
 
That is pretty much all there is to the film because it rarely does push the buttons or force itself into a direction that was unexpected. I was frankly hoping for some suicide attempt or more hesitation from the Indian parents for letting their little village boys head to the US. Heck they could’ve even thrown in a blast somewhere, especially since they were hell bent on showcasing every Indian stereotype — shady work ethics, garish and polluted towns and of course the head shaking. But that’s just me falling back on the healthy dose of Bollywood in my upbringing, hoping that there would be that one kahani mein twist that would make this saccharine story of the underdog more palatable.
 
Even Hamm’s transformation from being the arrogant, business-oriented guy to apparently a softer, more humane character is just contrived because, well, we knew that would happen right? The transformation would’ve been more dramatic had JB been more of a jerk. The closest he gets to being one is when he says that he dates models only. So he just moves from being a guy who dates models to a guy who dates his doctor-neighbour, played by the talented Lake Bell. Even the American Pie series has seen better transformation from jocks (yes, snigger on) to genial guys. How does a man who can add such gravitas to his role as Don Draper in Mad Men make a shallow attempt at being someone so full of himself? Ironic given that Draper was possibly the most self-centred man you’d find on television. That has got to be the greatest disappointment of the film, after of course, too few fleeting shots of his famed crotch.
 
It is a very Disney film. So there is insinuation of sex off screen and all of two kisses, but it is clean, feel good and unfortunately, also very predictable. They may as well have made this an animated flick and they would’ve gotten the same results.
 
Mittal and Sharma are earnest, though Mittal’s role in Slumdog Millionaire hangs like Damocle’s sword over his role in Million Dollar Arm. Sadly, that’s just a false alarm even after more than two characters suggest he could be a bit of the wild one. Pitobash, who played Amit, is the most enjoyable character in the film and it is his speech in the penultimate scene that is closest to some on-screen brilliance. Hamm’s face does most of the talking but he largely draws a blank. He, however, now completely owns that “shattered” expression that he popularised in Mad Men, much like Aamir Khan’s tears in every episode of Satyamev Jayate — both seasons —and most of his movies, including Ghulam I think.
 
Bell rings in well with the rest of the cast and even the music is interesting in parts. But looks like Rahman took a shortcut and managed to sneak in Ringa Ringa from Slumdog for a scene in the film. I really wish I had that option too in this two-hour film that went from the US to India and back, but did little else. 
 

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