sat 15/08/2020

Million Dollar Arm | reviews, news & interviews

Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm

Jon Hamm makes his bid for movie stardom in a semi-winning baseball drama

Disney's latest is a film which must have itself represented a hell of a pitch. Based on a true story, it's basically Slumdog Millionaire meets Jerry Maguire - two films that attracted ample awards-interest and that prompted cascades of cash, like crunchy autumn leaves to be raked up by the sackful. Million Dollar Arm finds a hard-nosed sports agent travelling to India in search of the next baseball sensation, his method of selection - the titular talent contest.

Jon Hamm makes the transition to the big screen lead look easy, usefully channelling his televisual alter-ego Don Draper to play JB Bernstein, a fortysomething bachelor with superficial wants and a-big-hole-instead-of-a-soul. Himself and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) have recently struck out on their own and are seeking new sporting talent, leading them to devise a pitching competition, "Million Dollar Arm", which they use to attract the interest of Asian investor Chang (Tzi Ma).

On his arrival in India, JB sets about assembling his scouting team. His initial contact is Vivek (Darshan Jariwala) who inducts him in the Indian way (in a nutshell, winging it), and he takes on the diminutive Amit (Pitobash), who acts as translator and general endearing dogsbody. They're later joined by US scout Ray (Alan Arkin doing his thing, sometimes quite literally in his sleep). As you'd expect, at first things don't look promising but eventually the team find Rinku (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) two gawky, likeably wide-eyed chaps from poor families.

Back in the US the boys are taken under the wing of coach Tom (Bill Paxton), while the bullish JB pursues other deals and is distracted by romance with his tenant / neighbour Brenda (Lake Bell, pictured right), a slightly scatty doctor.

It's hard to shake the sense that Million Dollar Arm has turned its most interesting characters into the sideshow. Rinku and Dinesh tentatively get to know one another, but their pratfalls in the hotel and at a lavish party occur off-screen, with the movie maintaining a close focus on JB who furiously deals with the fall-out from their antics and reluctantly takes the boys into his home.

This is not really a culture clash comedy drama, or an attempt to bring a remarkable story sincerely to the screen; instead screenwriter Thomas McCarthy (whose impressive writing credentials include Up and The Station Agent) strips events down to form the rather more simplistic narrative of a man learning to love, both romantically and platonically. Yet even in this the film falters, bungling key breakthroughs and reducing JB's bonding with Rinku and Dinesh to a montage.

It's probably correct to say that the romance also comes at the expense of the boys' character development, but it would take a hard heart to bemoan the presence of the charming Bell who has the kind of personable, elevating delivery which helps you forget you're watching something that's often depressingly formulaic.

Director Craig Gillespie boasts a strange CV which consists of the remake of Fright Night, cult oddity Lars and the Real Girl and comic misfire Mr Woodcock. He's a safe(ish) hand at the helm here, building compassion and - against the odds - a smidgen of tension for the film's conclusion, while cinematographer Gyula Pados adopts a fluid, sensitive style which fits with the sentiment of the story. Million Dollar Arm doesn't have anything like the award-winning potential of the films it seeks to lucratively emulate, it eschews the complexity and inconvenience of reality in favour of a familiar format whose every step can be anticipated. Even if you don't know the story, you'll know how this ends.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Million Dollar Arm

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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