In 1976 we had Rocky. In 1986 we had Hoosiers. Rudy appeared in our movie theaters in 1993. And in 2000, The Replacements was a popular film. All of the above are about sports, and competition, and all were the stories of underdogs who no one believed in except for one or two some bodies who were involved. Yes, films about sports have so very often told the story of the underdog.
We can now add Million Dollar Arm to the list, and while we are in the mood to add to this family friendly film from Disney, let’s add in some of the old cinematic chestnuts from films that we all have seen again and again.
a) Like the grumpy old coach, manager, or trainer – how about Alan Arkin playing a baseball scout so bored and uninterested that he only has to listen to a thrown pitch to know its speed, that is when he’s not napping, or cracking wise.
b) Like the beautiful neighbor, or friend, or in this case tenant as the love interest for the protagonist. Lake Bell plays a straight talking, no-nonsense medical student who lives in the rental guest house next door, and while she and the protagonist start off as landlord and tenant – you just know that it will change.
c) Speaking of the protagonist, Jon Hamm (from Mad Men), is on board as sports agent J.B. Bernstein. He lives beyond his means, drives a Porsche, he’s lost almost all of his clients, and his boutique sports agency will soon go under if a big score doesn’t happen. Of course, he’s selfish as well as self-centered, will only date models, is a natural-born heel,
and he’ll even be called a Class-A jerk by Lake Bell when necessary. He’s the protagonist and for sure he is going to find redemption by the time the film ends.
Of course there’s one more film cliché that comes into play. The fish out of water gambit. This happens twice in the film. First when Hamm’s Bernstein, and Arkin’s baseball scout Ray, land in Mumbai where they hope to find the first Indian boy or boys with a good enough arm, to attract the scouts, and then, to sign a Major League Baseball contract.
Then the fish out of water gambit rises again when Bernstein and Ray return to the states with not one, but two Indian boys, and a translator, theboys know nothing about baseball, or America. Culture clash appears as expected, and it isn’t always pretty. In a few cases it is demeaning.
So Million Dollar Arm gives us nothing new and is filled with clichés. Yes, the underdogs will again succeed, the heel will find redemption, get the girl. and have his pay-day as well. We’ve all seen this kind of ending so many times before. So expect the expected rather than the unexpected.
Having said that, I must say that the film still works and does entertain. It is rather slick, and professional. You do root for Hamm’s Bernstein as well as the two Indian pitchers, Rinku played by Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi, and Dinesh played by Madhur Mittal who played in Slumdog Millionaire.
Also turning in a sparkling performance is the Indian actor Pitobash who appears as the translator/liaison Amit. He gets most of the laughs in the film. And there are laughs to be certain. Probably there’s more laughs than dramatic tension as the film is definitely formulaic, and you know how it will end moments after it begins.
As the film states up front – it is based on a true story. Have a peek at the trailer:
Is it worth seeing? Yes – if you like Jon Hamm, yes if you like baseball, and yes if you like Alan Arkin. There’s also a good long look at big city India as well as small town India as Bernstein’s Million Dollar Arm caravan wends its way across India. And of course the film isn’t above taking a few shots at India. When Ray (Arkin) asks about the food, I think Delhi Belly is mentioned. Arkin says – I can’t wait. Or when they’re driving someplace – Arkin looks out the car window and sees two men on a scooter and one is carrying a live goat. Hamm’s Bernstein says, Like being on the road? Arkin’s Ray says, “Words cannot express….”
There are other notables – Bill Paxton plays the USC pitching coach who agrees to tutor the guys about baseball basics, then pitching, specifically.
And Bernstein’s agency partner Aash is played by Aasif Mandvi, and Tzi Ma is on board as Bernstein’s Chinese venture capitalist who agrees to fund the project. The film’s musical score also includes some compositions by the Oscar winning A.H. Rahman.
I won’t tell you to rush out and see this one immediately, but if you’d rather not join the hordes waiting to see Godzilla just yet – then you should consider the film. Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Thomas McCarthy the film won’t break new ground for you, but the fact that it is familiar doesn’t mean it won’t entertain. Three point two five is my rating on the one to five scale.