Disney has a long history of telling stories about underdogs, specifically in the sports genre. From kids camp like The Mighty Ducks and Angels in the Outfield to more adult themed Remember The Titans, The Rookie and Invincible, the one common thread among all these films? Heart. The same can be said about Disney’s latest sports foray- Million Dollar Arm.
Million Dollar Arm is the story of sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) who, in a last ditch effort to save his troubled sports agency, dreams up a contest to find a “million dollar arm” baseball pitcher in cricket crazed India and turn them into India’s first signed baseball players. His agency co-founder, Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi) sets up the adventure from the US and J.B. journeys to India where he meets Amit (Pitobash Tripathy) who volunteers to help in any way he can. Also joining him is Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), a sports scout from the US who naps his way through finding the winning pitchers. After many failed locations, and diminishing hope (while also seemingly budding a romance with his tenant, Brenda (Lake Bell) via Skype), they happen upon a boys school for athletes and find Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma). After a final contest, both boys are heading to the US to train with Tom House (Bill Paxton) and have 6 months to become good enough to be signed by an actual baseball team.
The question of will they succeed is never really question, but then again, in the best of sports films, that is usually not the case. You know they achieve something (cause why else is a movie being made) but the real juice of the story is in the humanity behind it. Million Dollar Arm has heart, even when Hamm’s J.B. Bernstein is still in an unlikable (read: jerky) transition role. When I spoke to the real J.B., he even exclaimed how he knows some aspects of the film have been exaggerated (like the role of Will Chang (Tzi Ma), because that’s movie making, but the feeling, people and heart behind it still remained true.
Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma are real talents and their protrayals of their respective characters was pretty spot on from what I saw after meeting the actual guys behind it. My favorite role, had to have been that of Amit played by Pitobash Tripathy. His role always gave feeling and overall, he does give the go-get em speech that sent many tears flowing at each screening I viewed.
Another big thing I liked is that this is a movie you can take your kids to. Despite a couple of questionable scenes (some bikini clad girls at a party and the hinting at J.B. and Brenda spending the night together, this is a story that a family can share together…and that makes this film a must see.
Million Dollar Arm opens May 16 and is rated PG.