A feel good sports movie from Disney? I don’t think anyone was expecting anything to earth shattering from Million Dollar Arm. Life lessons will be learned. Sports will be played. People will change. It’s the kind of thing that Disney has become a pro at, and your enjoyment on Million Dollar Arm will rest entirely on whether or not you’re tired of sports movie cliches.
Also, John Hamm is just a damn charming man. Damn charming.
Million Dollar Arm
Director: Craig Gillespie
Release Date: May 16, 2014
As with every nearly every sports movie in the past decade Million Dollar Arm is based on an inspiring true story. That story is that of Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Danesh (Madhur Mittal), two Indian boys who try out for a baseball pitching competition put on by JB (Jon Ham). JB is a sports agent down on his luck so in a last bid attempt to save his company he goes to Indian to find baseball players in a country that knows nothing about baseball. Rinku and Danesh win this and come over to America to attempt to get signed by a professional baseball team. In doing so the normal sports film struggles and a bit of culture shock occur as JB learns how to not be a jerk and falls in love with Brenda (Lake Bell).
From that you should be able to tell how the rest of the movie plays out because it plays out the exact same way every movie like this does. The film is overly nice to a flaw and sweet to a face that almost borders on bitter. There’s nothing here too challenging or out of the box. The montages hit at just the right times, the comebacks occur right on cue and the eventual triumph of hard work and friendship is indeed inevitable. If you’re in the mood for that type of movie then you could do far worse than Million Dollar Arm, and I’m definitely not going to come down on it for being unoriginal in its structure since it does what it does well enough.
It also helps that the cast is actually really great. Jon Hamm plays JB as charmingly as possible, though at times it’s hard to get Don Draper out of your head. He’s got an effortless cool that works on screen and works in the film. Even better are Sharma and Mittal who do a fantastic job of imbuing what could have been tow cookie cutter characters with a bit of life. The cast really makes the film work. Without them the saccharine story wouldn’t have the needed charm to carry itself.
The film also does a great job of capturing the beauty of India as it was actually shot there. Director Craig Gillespie captures some fantastic scenes from around the country. On the flip side the entire trip is very sugar coated and hardly deals with the oppressive poverty and other issues that the country, and even the characters in the film face. It’s this sugar coating that makes the sports work, but keeps the film from being something more. There was a chance here to challenge perceptions and address some global issues, but the movie settles for platitudes about giving India a dream. It’s nice and all, but doesn’t feel very sincere.
What is oddly sincere is the movie’s soundtrack, which is almost entirely comprised of rap songs that sample Indian music. It’s a very strange mixture, having a super sweet Disney sports film over layed with some actually edgy music. At times it can throw you off, but I like to think the mixture of American hip hop and Indian music was an intentional commentary of the American baseball and Indian kids. It’s possible I’m giving the film too much credit.
Million Dollar Arm is no more or less than what it looks like. A charming cast makes it succeed, but a lack of willingness to really push boundaries never lets it become anything more.