Million Dollar Arm (PG)

Drama 124 min. May 10, 2014
By Alan Scherstuhl
Only in America -- or an American movie -- could the story of the first two Indian players to be signed to a Major League Baseball team get spun as an L.A. sports agent's journey toward realizing the importance of family and not only dating models. In Million Dollar Arm's second half, when it collapses like the '78 Red Sox, Jon Hamm's JB Bernstein has plucked two athletes from villages on the subcontinent and then borderline imprisoned them in his austere California manse.

Just months before, these young men had never held a baseball. Neither speaks English, both are achingly homesick, and they're drilling each day for an upcoming MLB tryout. But the movie sidelines all this real-life drama to shove Hamm into the oldest of plots: The Businessman Who Stops Putting Business First But Is Rewarded in the End with a Great Success in Business Anyway.

Still, much of Million Dollar Arm is pretty good for a movie committed to the wrong character's story. The much stronger first half covers JB's tour of India with his Million Dollar Arm pitching contest. He sees this cricket-obsessed nation as an unexploited resource: Surely someone there has MLB-level "juice." This plays as a bustling travelogue, a splendidly shot comedy that tickles at a self-involved American's frustrations at the differences between here and there.

If the filmmakers had later afforded their Indian characters the screentime and agency JB enjoyed on his adventure, Million Dollar Arm might have distinguished itself. Instead, its only suspense comes from wondering how far the story will go before departing this world for the land of sports-movie magic.
Craig Gillespie Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Alan Arkin Tom McCarthy Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray Walt Disney Pictures

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