Any time a baseball movie is coming to theaters, I get fairly excited. I absolutely love the good and I tolerate the bad, which is a lot more than can be said for most genres. Going into Million Dollar Arm, I wasn’t too familiar with the story, but I had a hunch that a film from Disney about two Indian boys trying to find a way to play baseball was going to be a bit too sappy for my tastes. I hate when my hunches are right.
JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent who has fallen on hard times. After being extremely successful with a major firm, he struck out on his own, only to find that the biz wasn’t quite as kind without the security of a major name. He makes a big effort to land a major client, but when that falls flat, him and his partner are about to go under. They need some sort of drastic move in order to turn things around, and that move presents itself in the form of finding cricket bowlers to convert into pitchers. He finds two Indian boys (played by Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) to bring back to America with the goal of turning them into MLB stars.
That idea has promise. After all, there weren’t any baseball players from India and it is one of the biggest countries in the world. Tapping into that market would be one of the best business moves of the century. Unfortunately, all the reasons why Bernstein’s idea was a good one can show why Million Dollar Arm the movie was not a good one. It’s a genre that’s oversaturated, and instead of trying to do something fresh, the movie just attempts to further extract the successful elements of the best sports films in recent years, mostly the emotional bits that come from an underpriviledged underdog story. The result is a story that fails to do anything new and fails to excite in the process.
The story itself really is a great one. A couple of kids from India, brought to America in an effort to turn them into major league baseball players. The pressure of their future is on their shoulders and the eyes of their country are following their every move. The problem is, instead of telling that story straight, the movie tries to slap the audience with every bit of homesickness and uncertainty that any character could have ever felt, forgetting that it’s the differences between the extremes that give emotions weight, not consistency.
Disney goes so far into keeping the story focused on its Blindside-like elements that they omit Rinku and Dinesh from the credit sequence that highlights where the characters are now. That’s because one of them is back in India and the other is stuck in minor league purgatory. Just one of the many examples of how the movie tries to be too much of a feel-good story and fails to tell a good story straight.
For all the problems with how the story is handled, the film does feature some top-notch acting performances. Hamm has proven his dramatic chops on television, and while this isn’t the most challenging role, he brings a level of charisma and talent that the film desperately needs. Also notable is Lake Bell’s performance as Brenda, the girl who rents Bernstein’s guest house. Brenda’s able to balance being attractive enough to nab Berstein and kind enough to relate to the boys. Bell hits nearly every aspect of the character to perfection.
And in the end, this is still a baseball movie, which means there’s a lot of room to get past any flaws. You still get to watch people grab a glove and throw a ball around, so it really can’t be all bad. It just would’ve been nice if Million Dollar Arm spent more time focusing on the actual story and less time trying to find ways to siphon tears.