I’ve always been a sucker for sports movies. The drama, the tension, overcoming adversity against all odds, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. They give me all the excitement of sports without me having to follow a certain team or player on a regular basis. Over the years we been treated to many a “Feel Good” sports film, the most famous being Rocky. But there have been countless others covering pretty much every sport and Disney has had their fair share. Tugging at our heartstrings, the perfect formula for a good sports film is to show a somewhat likeable yet flawed character who has the chance to do something great, put a bunch of roadblocks like an unbeatable rival team or poor living conditions in his or her way and have them beat the odds and make it. It’s a tried and true method that we’ve seen over and over again. What makes for a GREAT sports movie is when they take said formula and tweak it and add to it, making the experience and the protagonist(s) unique. I would like to say that the movie I saw did just that and brought us an interesting look at India’s first ever major league pitcher. I’d like to tell you that, I would. But I’m not very good at lying. The truth is that Million Dollar Arm is not only a sports film you’ve seen before, it’s a bland imitation of a sports film you’ve seen before.
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm is the story of sports agent JB Berstein (played by Jon Hamm), a man who’s business is on the brink of going under. In one last, desperate move to not lose it all, he hatches the plan to go to India and hold a contest to find the next great Major League Baseball pitcher from the population’s cricket players. There he finds Dinesh and Rinku, two 18-year-old boys who each have the ability to throw a fastball with no knowledge of the game. JB brings them back to America with the dream of signing them to a MLB contract. This is easier said than done as each of the boys, who have never been outside of India before, are overwhelmed by the change in culture and JB’s expectations. But through a little training and some life lessons for both JB and the boys, these young men are able to face the challenge before them.
As I stated above, the elements of the sports film are all there: the underdogs, the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make it, the adversity that needs to be overcome. You name it, it’s got it. What’s missing is one small component that’s necessary for the film to work. There’s no real tension. Sure, there’s points where the boys are going through some tough times and JB has to learn that he’s treating them wrong. There are moments where both Dinesh and Rinku are feeling the pressure to perform. There’s even an attempt at a love story between JB and his neighbor. The problem is that none of this drama translates to the audience. The sign of a good sports movie that’s based on a true story is the ability to make the audience feel that the hero might not win the day, even though we already know he/she did in real life. This film is completely void of tension and there’s no real attempt in the writing or directing to create that tension. Each of the main characters shows emotion but it feels like t.v. movie of the week emotion. This story is void of any real charm or character and does a huge disservice to its actors.
I feel that with a better script and better direction, the cast presented could’ve given us a better film. But it’s hard to produce something great when you’re not given much to work with. Jon Hamm’s JB is pretty much a jerk…..and then he’s not. We’re given very superficial reasons to believe that he’s gone from being the uncaring agent that’s just worried about his meal ticket to someone who genuinely cares about his clients. There’s no feeling of true transformation. It feels like the writers just quickly read a blurb on the real Bernstein and then watched just the first half of Jerry Maguire. We’re given no reason to like this character other than “Hey, it’s Jon Hamm! You guys like Jon Hamm, right?” Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma, who play Dinesh and Rinku, show the promise of a good performance and really try their best to make you actually believe in them but are bogged down by so much cliche moments and trite dialogue that you get bored of their story pretty fast. JB’s love interest Brenda, played by Lake Bell, is nothing more than a place holder character to help move along the main character’s realization that he’s coming at this all wrong. She’s given no real personality with the exception of being very nice. The only two performances I can say that I feel were any good at all were from Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton. Arkin plays a baseball scout who accompanies JB on his journey to India (and pops up a couple of times later in the film as well) and is only enjoyable because he’s just playing Alan Arkin. I’m fine with this because at least Arkin playing Arkin is more exciting and fun to watch than everything else in this film. Paxton, while not doing anything grand in this picture, did a great job of capturing the essence of real life trainer Tom House. The performance is uncanny. Unfortunately, House is in about 15 minutes of the movie total. For most the film, we’re treated to actors saying predictable dialogue and going through the motions of a paint by numbers story.
Million Dollar Arm was not the worst film I’ve seen this year but it was probably the most mundane. There was a chance to possibly tell something interesting here with this unique story but Director Craig Gillespie and crew decided to go the safe route and bring us a not very exciting film. A swing and a miss! Sorry, I really felt like saying a cliche line after watching a whole movie full of ’em. Needless to say, you can skip this movie.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!