Million Dollar Arm Review: Cool Jerry Maguire Runnings
“Predictable” is a four-letter word to filmlovers everywhere (and to people who can’t spell), but there is a time and a place for predictability. I don’t mind when a Friday the 13th movie is about a guy in a hockey mask killing teenagers. I don’t mind when a Step Up movie ends in an epic dance battle. And I don’t mind when a Disney sports movie is about a ragtag team of underdogs making good any more than I do when I check the label and learn that Tylenol still has acetaminophen in it.
So I don’t terribly mind that Million Dollar Arm plays like the bastard love child of Cool Runnings and Jerry Maguire, having apparently jumbled the pages of both scripts together and carefully changed the words “bobsledding” to “baseball,” and “Jamaica” to “India.” It’s still a fun, feel-good movie, in that I actually felt better after I saw it than when I entered the theater. But there’s no denying that the clichés are sometimes a distraction.
Jon Hamm plays J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent who left a bigger firm to strike out on his own; the only problem is that he really is striking out: his one big client has left him for a bigger opportunity and now he’s stuck trying to spin straw into gold by hosting a contest in India, enlisting cricket players with a strong pitching arm to try out for big league basebal in America. He winds up with Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma), two kids with raw talent who trek back to America and discover the intoxicating allure of pizza and “The Hills.”
Director Craig Gillespie films Million Dollar Arm like it was an excuse for an all-expense paid Indian vacation, reveling in the international scenery and treating America like a generic land of upper class homes and empty baseball fields. And he relies on culture clash more than Fox news relies on Benghazi. Isn’t it funny that Indians honk their horns a lot? Isn’t it funny that Dinesh and Rinku don’t now how an elevator works? The answer is “not really” but the cast is more than likable enough to look the other way and focus on Million Dollar Arm’s more satisfying pleasures.
At its heart Million Dollar Arm is about family (yawn) and the dangers of turning what you love into just another day job (kind of interesting). And although Gillespie’s film examines those themes through time-honored and distractingly familiar clichés, that’s exactly what we expect from sports movies. By the time Jon Hamm starts to recognize that he’s treating his young charges as commodities instead of people, and is taken to task for his heartlessness by a charismatic but underutilized Lake Bell, the message is clearly, wholesomely received.
Baseball, just like the movies, may be a multi-billion dollar industry but at its heart it’s also supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be inspiring and it’s supposed to make us cheer. And although I may not have stood up in my seat and hollered at the end of Million Dollar Arm, I smiled inwardly to myself and made a mental note to rediscover the joy in my own work. Any film, no matter how clichéd, that can have that kind of impact is worth recommending. Million Dollar Arm doesn’t pitch a no-hitter, but by the finale I couldn’t deny that it played a good game.