Sunday, May 11, 2014

'Million Dollar Arm' review

In the mid-2000's, the sports movie was one of the most bankable genres in the business. And nobody had a stronger monopoly over the sports movie genre than Disney. Movies like Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Rookie and more were produced by the studio and the films often brought in a solid profit. In recent years, the Disney sports movie hasn't been made quite as frequently. The last one that I remember was 2010's Secretariat, which was probably not one of their best. Disney is now back with Million Dollar Arm (in theaters May 16), a Jon Hamm-starred baseball feature that mixes Slumdog Millionaire and Moneyball together for a pretty enjoyable film.

JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent in California, struggling to bring in top-notch clients after starting his own business. Bernstein has the chance to snag a big NFL player, but loses him to a rival agency. Out of money and out of ideas, Bernstein decides to try to get the first MLB players from India after being inspired by watching cricket on TV. Bernstein travels to the country to set up the "Million Dollar Arm" competition, where two Indian men will get the chance to travel to America to train for baseball. When Bernstein gets to India, he teams up with an office manager (Darshan Jariwala), a local baseball fan (Pitobash) and an American baseball scout (Alan Arkin) to find these players.

After a difficult start to the competition, Bernstein eventually finds two potential players (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal) and takes them back to America for training. However, Bernstein learns that taking two kids from the middle of nowhere and turning them into baseball stars won't happen overnight. But through the help of Coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) and a neighbor (Lake Bell), Bernstein learns to help these kids achieve their dream and reach their full potential.

Inspirational sports movies rarely change their formula. The only real exception that I can think of in recent years is Bennett Miller's Moneyball, which focused on the business side of sports. Million Dollar Arm has a little bit of Moneyball in it, but for the most part, it's your typical Disney sports movie. It runs through all of the motions in a pretty standard way and never does something that's unconventional or unexpected. Formulas and cliches work for a reason though. Despite the fact that it's really nothing new, director Craig Gillespie infuses an energy into this film that makes it one of the better and more effortlessly enjoyable Disney sports movies that I've ever seen.

India and Los Angeles are the settings for this film and they make the film very energetic and very exciting. It seems like there's always something going on and the film is consistently entertaining for the two hour runtime. The film contrasts LA and India well, but both feel exciting in their own right. I really enjoyed the direction and editing of this film and thought that it made the film better, which is a massive compliment. Gillespie has a good eye for atmosphere and makes the geographic settings of the film very important.

The acting is pretty typical of these kinds of films. Nobody really ever stood out to me and some people really seemed like they were phoning in it. Jon Hamm is a solid choice for Bernstein and brings a little bit of charisma to the role. Alan Arkin is once again playing the same character that he did in Argo, Burt Wonderstone and Grudge Match, which was amusing and entertaining for a while, but has become a little tiresome and tedious at this point. Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal did a good job as Rinku and Dinesh, the two boys brought over to play baseball. The standout of the cast for me was Lake Bell who is really charming and charismatic in her role.

For me, the Disney sports movies often get caught up in their story and end up being a little long-winded. Secretariat's main flaw is that it's too long. Same with Miracle at times (although that movie is brilliant if you haven't seen it). Million Dollar Arm does fall into that trap at times as well. It's around two hours long and I feel like it could be shorter.

Despite being a rather typical sports movie, Million Dollar Arm is so enjoyable and is a crowd-pleasing film through and through. It's a movie that will entertain you from start to finish and it features a Bollywood soundtrack that really adds a lot of energy to the film. This is definitely one of the better sports movies that I've seen in recent years. It's not as daring as Moneyball or as inspirational as Miracle, but it's a movie that a lot of people will enjoy and one that will have you leave the theater with a smile on your face.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.9/10)


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