August 29, 2014

FILM: Million Dollar Arm Pays Dividends

 

Disney movie takes a big swing and connects.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY PICTURES

FILM: <i>Million Dollar Arm</i> Pays Dividends

Jon Hamm plays sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Disney’s Million Dollar Arm.

When Disney does sports sans the Golden Retrievers or angels in the outfield, the end results can be pretty damn entertaining as we see inMillion Dollar Arm.

After losing out on a star NFL player and with his business teetering on bankruptcy, Agents J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and his partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi) rest their chances on a long-shot idea of creating a reality show in India called “Million Dollar Arm.” The hope is to convert a cricket player into a major league pitcher and break into an untapped market.

While two kids from India come back with J.B. to the states, all start a new journey as Dinesh and Rinku embrace their dreams while the agent embraces humanity. Comparisons to Jerry Maguire are unavoidable but also short-sighted. Being an agent requires the same push and pull and requisite showing of money now as it did back in 1996. In reality, it’s just the same hustle since currency was invented. The “based on a true story” disclaimer strips the audience of their B.S. detector leaving Million Dollar Arm to work best when its heart is showing.

The film’s big statement of getting outside of comfort zones to reach ultimate potential is well played. The big montages, sight gags and cultural jokes are all great but it’s the smaller scenes like Dinesh and Rinku leaving India or J.B. actually having a human feeling that carries the film.

It’s that underlying premise that makes Jon Hamm ideal for this role. It’s the best of both worlds; as J.B. the agent, he’s Don Draper in a Porsche. With the kids and with the subplot, you see the actor working with shapes outside of the Draper mold. It’ll be interesting to see what roles Hamm pursues next after TV’s “Mad Men.”

Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma do solid work as Dinesh and Rinku. The idea that you see them as kids working in a new environment compared to “Indian” kids in America speaks to their depth. Hamm doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting either as does Bill Paxton; Alan Arkin and Mandvi are clutch in their supporting roles. Simply put, Lake Bell is charming in every way and it’s a surprise to see her getting screen time instead of “the girlfriend” or “the body.” If J.B. and the boys are the emotional heart of the film, she’s the beat that keeps everything running smoothly.

Credit also to Tom McCarthy (2011’s sorely underratedWin Win) for crafting a story that, even though based in reality, has a sports element to it and a stronger emotional story beneath it.

Time will tell where Million Dollar Arm ranks in the all-time sports movie list but it certainly is a must-watch as of right now. n