Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Million Dollar Arm (2014) [PG] ****
A film review by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY, May 16, 2014.
Jon Hamm knows how to play an opportunist, intent on reinvention. From his rise and fall as Don Draper in Mad Men to his latest role as a sports agent trying to keep in the game, Hamm is convincing as a charismatic schemer.
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm (**½ out of four; rated PG) has believable lead performances and a crowd-pleasing premise, as written by talented screenwriter Tom McCarthy (The Visitor). But it comes off somewhat like a Jerry Maguire wannabe, with a touch of Life of Pi.
Better than some inspirational sports movies, due mostly to its humor quotient and exotic Indian locations, this baseball movie is hampered by a predictable storytelling style and not enough curve balls. It should have been more winning, given that director Craig Gillespie also made the charming Lars and the Real Girl.
For starters, Hamm's character, sports agent JB Bernstein, could have used even half the dimension that has made Draper so fascinating. Bernstein is watching his career tank. He needs some big-name clients or his business, and glamorous lifestyle, will become has-beens. A former top agent with a big firm, his persuasive way with corporate types and athletes propelled him to launch his own firm. But his business acumen sometimes pushes his humanity out of the picture.
JB's partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) is a big fan of cricket. JB doesn't get the appeal. Then one night he comes up with a scheme that is more public relations stunt than sports event. The idea is born as he channel surfs and toggles between a cricket match and the TV show Britain's Got Talent.
Why not go to India and stage a nationwide contest to transform cricket bowlers into top-notch baseball pitchers? From there, the big leagues will snatch up the winners — or so JB surmises. As the world of professional athletics becomes increasingly globalized, the Indian contest seems a wise idea. If Ichiro Suzuki could come from Japan to play in the major leagues, then the same could happen to a talented rookie from a small Indian village.
JB signs a deal with a deep-pocketed investor and off he goes to India to find a baseball star tucked away somewhere in the sub-continent.
The musical score, courtesy of Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman, helps brings Indian cities like Jaipur and Bangalore to vivid life. Indeed, scenes in India are the lively heart of the film. The soul comes through when the Indian transplants arrive in Los Angeles. Instead of indulging in clichéd fish-out-of-water scenes, the guys fall into a slump, homesick and lonely for their families.
JB is too self-absorbed to notice their malaise. It takes the wisdom of his tenant, Brenda, a tell-it-like-it-is medical student deftly played by Lake Bell, to jolt him into realization. Both delightfully natural actors, Hamm and Bell have an appealing chemistry, which helps mitigate the predictability of the life lessons JB absorbs.
Three Indian actors stand out, though their characters could have used more development. As eager translator Amit, Bollywood comic Pitobash has an irrepressible enthusiasm. The two young men who eventually win the contest, Rinku (Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal) are engaging performers.
When it focuses on the clash of cultures, laughs naturally flow. When it follows the familiar sports movie playbook too slavishly, it grows tedious. But everyone loves an underdog and the story capitalizes on that. Like JB's persona, Million Dollar Arm is flawed, but also slickly presented and likable. [Claudia Puig's rating: ** ½ out of 4]
Labels: baseball, biography, cross-cultural, drama