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.