Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, “Million Dollar Arm” hits a homerun. Based on a true story, this Disney film has both drama and heart. It captures the emotions without sugary sentimentality and that traditional silliness of plot that sometimes plagues Disney films targeted at an older audience.
TV’s favorite erasable advertising exec from “Mad Men” John Hamm creates an entirely new vibe in his portrayal of J.B. Bernstein , a baseball agent filled with self-doubt, angst, and a dwindling bank account. Being a top-level sports agent has its perks: a big house with a pool, beautiful women pandering every night of the week, and a snazzy sports car.
J.B.’s enjoyment of the good life appears to be short-lived, however, because he and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) can no longer compete with the big companies offering athletes million dollar signing bonuses.
When it looks like all might be lost, J.B. gathers his strength and creativity to save the agency. In a flash of brilliance, he devises a plan inspired by his channel surfing between a televised cricket match and an episode of “America’s Got Talent.”
India is a country of over one billion people. The best athletes play cricket, and J.B. reckons that cricket athletes draw on the same muscular efficiency when they bowl the ball as baseball players do when they pitch. He determines to advance his crazy idea to his investor.
He will set up a “million dollar arm” contest in India to find a group of the best athletes in the country. Then the competition will winnow out the ones who don’t have the magic. The two who are left will be brought to the U.S., their skills honed to perfection in time to compete in professional baseball tryouts. J.B.’s firm will sign them and all will be saved.
Although this plan sounds good in theory, its execution involves some crazy moments. From his time in India with his baseball guru Ray (Alan Arkin) to the budding relationship with his neighbor Brenda (Lake Bell), J.B. confronts every challenge with a mix of charm and chaos. He lives the brink of constant catastrophe when the two winners arrive in the U.S.
As it turns out, Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) don’t even like cricket. Coaching expert Tom House (Bill Paxton) will have to perform a miracle for the two to be ready for tryouts. J.B. takes on the roles of father, mother, housekeeper, and chauffeur for the two, trying to manage both their emotional happiness and their athletic ability. The heart is a hard-to-manage muscle.
You can turn to the baseball history books to see what happens to the two Indian athletes and J.B. Bernstein. For now, let’s just say that the game is a good one.
Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.