Review: Million Dollar Arm


Director:Craig Gillespie

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

Running Time:124.00


Million Dollar Arm is a swing and a miss. It's based on the true story of two Indian teens brought to America and taught to play baseball by one of the best coaches in the country, but it's so wrapped up in the story of the narcissistic agent who recruited them.

Jon Hamm"”no stranger to playing jerks used to getting their way"”plays J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent who went out on his own and has yet to see a big return. Inspired while flipping channels between a cricket match and Susan Boyle's audition on Britain's Got Talent, he stages an India-wide search for a cricket player who could pitch fast enough to try out for the major leagues.

There's a lot of different paths the movie could have explored, including exploitation vs. opportunity and culture shock. But Million Dollar Arm isn't interested in that. It's all about one inconsiderate guy's journey to being slightly more considerate.

That's frustrating considering there's a deeper social study lurking inside this inspirational sports movie. It's doubly baffling since it's written by Tom McCarthy, who has made great movies about surrogate families (The Station Agent) and sports (Win Win).

But it's still never less than watchable. That's because the cast is top-notch, even in roles that are severely underwritten. The two boys in particular"”Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi and Madhur Mittal from Slumdog Millionaire"”are blank canvases that are never filled in.

And I can't forget to mention Alan Arkin and Lake Bell, who bring such an effortless charm to stock roles "” mentor and love interest, respectively"”than is even required. They elevate a story riddled with clichés.

There's a richer story inside Million Dollar Arm, one that really gets to know the two young prospects, that explores the differences between the U.S. and India"”beyond whether the cuisine might give you the runs"”and inspires without relying on stuff we've seen in dozens of other sports movies. But Disney wants the squeaky clean package, one that doesn't show the blemishes and wrinkles of this true story. This is never an exposé, just a puff piece. But it's a well done puff piece.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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