Film Review: Million Dollar Arm

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Plot: Based on a true story, J.B. Bernstein’s (Jon Hamm) new sports agency is in jeopardy of folding. As a last resort, J.B. sells the idea of scouting new pitching talent in criquet players, and travels to India where he holds a contest to find the best prospects.

It’s Disney sports movie schmaltz time. Come on, you know it’s coming. Get over it. Despite its tired clichés, painfully predictable storylines, and straight forward character arcs, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I got suckered into this. This is a highly entertaining movie, and while we’ve seen these tropes a billion times, the actors definitely cared, and sometimes amongst all the explosions, robots, monsters, and capes, these movies can certainly hit at the right time, and this one happened to do that for me.

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The biggest reason why this film works is the chemistry. Every actor in here has great chemistry, and it’s Jon Hamm who’s at the epicenter. To be honest, I didn’t love him at first. I don’t think he hit the comedic notes very well, and I found myself wondering if another actor could have done a better job. But as the film goes on, Hamm really does draw you in. It’s the classic “I’m all about business, but I have a heart, and at the end of the film, I’m all heart” arc. While it’s pretty straight forward, the screenplay is a little spotty at times. When Bernstein is in India, you don’t really get the sense he’s a heartless business man, but when he comes back to America, the movie tries to act like he was this person the whole time, just so he can go through the calculated character progressions.

As much as I enjoyed Hamm’s performance though, it’s the chemistry of the supporting characters that make this movie very enjoyable. Bernstein’s partner is played by Aasif Mandvi, and he’s a pure comedic delight. He and Hamm play very well off each other. We also get Lake Bell, who I’ve never been that enamored with, but she definitely showed a lot of charisma here. At times they go a little too quirky though, which can really get on my nerves, or as I like to call it, “Greta Gerwig Syndrome.” But again, it’s another great relationship for Hamm throughout the movie. We also get Bill Paxton in a very workmanlike performance, and Alan Arkin pops up as the most clichéd character imaginable, playing a retired old baseball scout. I’m never going to complain about Alan Arkin in a movie though. I love the guy.

The real heart of the film were the Indian ball players, and their translator Amit, played by Pitobash. Amit is the classic goofy sports character who completely enraptures your heart, sort of like Sanka in Cool Runnings. Yeah, I just pulled out a Cool Runnings reference. I should stop the review right there. What really elevated this film though were Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma), the Indian ball players. Not only do they have to learn baseball in a very short period of time, but they also have to adapt to America. And yes, there are scenes where they don’t know what pizza delivery is, or they get completely mesmerized by some hackneyed MTV teen drama. I think it was The Hills or something, I don’t know, who cares. It never gets too silly though, and I even thought the actors did a good job of pulling the humor off. They are funny when they need to be, but also highly sympathetic, as they work their asses off trying to understand baseball, and that to me is why the film is ultimately effective.

While the pace is fairly slow, I was never bored, and definitely engaged the whole way through. This film isn’t reinventing cinema here, and if you’re going to do the tired sports movie, you better have great characters, and to the film’s credit, there’s a whole plethora of them. If you’re in the mood for a feel good movie, this is the one you want to see.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.