'Million Dollar Arm': Pitchers make a passage from India
Million Dollar Arm is being positioned as a baseball movie with exotic Indian flavoring. That's a bit of a canard.
It's more like Jerry Maguire: the story of a sports agent who stops acting like a shark long enough to find his soul.
With Million Dollar Arm's agent (Jon Hamm), it takes the love of a good woman (Lake Bell), a cranky old scout (Alan Arkin) who miraculously awakens from his narcoleptic state to solve all of Hamm's problems, and a full two hours of screen time to accomplish this.
Passionate, yet plodding and almost entirely predictable, Million Dollar Arm pulls so hard on your heartstrings, it tears most of the tendons in its pitching arm.
The film stresses that it is "based on a true story," but melodrama extrudes at every turn. Hamm goes to Mumbai to scour the country for strong-armed baseball talent. (The in-country scenery is the most enjoyable aspect of this project.)
What is less clear is that the agent he's playing actually arranged a reality TV show in India called The Million Dollar Arm (although no one ever won a prize approaching that amount).
The finalists, Rinku Singh (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Slumdog Millionaire's Madhu Mittal), were brought to America and trained for a shot at a major league tryout.
Lots of comic culture shock and poignant homesickness along the way. And at each stage of their journey - their initial tryouts, their first workout in Los Angeles with college baseball guru Tom House (Bill Paxton), and their big league showcase - Singh and Patel must perform disastrously, so that their subsequent triumphs will thrill us all the more.
At the conclusion, a postscript updates us on what happened to the real people the characters in the film are based on. Except, conspicuously, the two athletes, whose pro baseball careers haven't exactly panned out (although Singh has had a cup of chai in the minors with the State College Spikes).
Obviously, that part of the "true story" had to be buried. It doesn't fit with Million Dollar Arm's happy-happy endgame, which you can see coming from the very first pitch. The problem is, it sure takes its sappy time getting there.
Million Dollar Arm * 1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Craig Gillespie. With Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios.
Running time: 2 hours, 3 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (suggestive language and content).
Playing at: area theaters.