by James Goodman
It’s not a home run, but it’s definitely a hit and worth a screening. Don’t come into this movie thinking it’s another ‘baseball’ movie. It’s not. It does reference plenty of sports, but the main focus is on J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and how life isn’t always about the deal first, but the heart instead. The message here is to have fun, the reward comes later.
“Million Dollar Arm” is based on a true story. Going into the movie, I did not read up on the real story involving the “Million Dollar Arm” contest. And it’s a Disney movie, so you know Disney will give the story a happy ending. I encourage you to stay through the credits because at the end of the movie, you get to meet the real Dinesh & Rinku.
Detailed review and spoilers after the jump.
J.B. Bernstein is a sports agent. He started his own business, but he and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) are having a hard time landing a solid client worth enough money to keep the business open. He sets up an important meeting with a valuable NFL player named Popo in hopes to sign him to his agency. Popo makes some hefty demands that J.B.’s agency cannot meet. With Popo unsigned, J.B. must do everything he can to bring in some cash and clients fast.
J.B. and Aash spend the night drowning their sorrows over plenty of beer while watching Cricket. After sending Aash home in a cab, J.B. continues to watch TV, flipping through channels and hits on a weird combination of Britain’s Got Talent and Cricket – a pitching contest!
J.B. and Aash find an investor, Mr. Chang, to begin the reality contest “Million Dollar Arm” in the only untapped market of over one billion people: India. Before J.B. leaves, his tenant Brenda (Lake Bell) who rents the bungalow behind his house, has one last list of complaints for her landlord. With no money and little time before his flight to India, J.B. offers his washer and the keys to the house to Brenda, who happily accepts.
J.B. travels to India and begins working with a translator named Vivek (Darshan Jariwala). Vivek has set up office space for them in a high-rise building, but there are no flyers or t-shirts yet. In India, everything works slower. In India we meet Amit – an Indian with a dream of being a baseball coach; and Ray (Alan Arkin), a talent scout sent to help J.B. find contestants for the reality show. Ray sleeps through much of this part of the film, telling J.B. that he’ll wake up when he hears a good pitcher.
The culture shock of India starts getting to J.B. He is so focused on the “deal” and ensuring he finds great contestants that he’s missing out on the amazing culture going on all around him. Brenda recognizes his lack of appreciation for India from their many Skype conversations each evening.
Rinku (Suraj Sharma) & Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) emerge as our titular Million Dollar Arms to be. Next comes the tearful goodbyes as they prepare to head to the United States. J.B. and his Team experience some Indian customs and celebratory rituals. The Taj Mahal also makes an appearance, but the entire experience seems lost on J.B. He’s still focused on the business, the deal. Brenda, on the other hand, loves the Taj Mahal, but notices that J.B. is disinterested.
Because the boys do not speak English, Amit becomes their personal translator and travels with them to America. We get subtitles and classic fish out of water hijinks when J.B. tries to leave the boys at a Los Angeles luxury hotel. Ultimately, J.B. brings the boys to his house to stay with him while they go through American baseball training at USC. And J.B. is still always rushing and trying to push the Indian boys to catch up to his pace. He has them working with pitching guru Tom House (Bill Paxton). House’s methods are unorthodox and unusual, but he’s been successful and J.B. wants to be sure that the boys are ready for their major league showcase.
Mr. Chang, the investor, gets impatient and sets up a public tryout for the boys before the boys are ready (and sooner than J.B. expected). The tryout is, predictably, a disaster. Under the bright lights of major league scouts and American media attention, the boys choke – they can’t even throw strikes. At this point, the story’s focus shifts from the sports to the characters. The Indian pitchers are lonely and unsure of themselves. They’re lost in America, and J.B. isn’t capable of caring for anyone but himself.
Enter Brenda. She helps J.B. see that he has to become the Father figure to the boys. They need his encouragement and support, and he needs to figure out to reach them – how to motivate them. J.B. returns to the scene of the previous tryout debacle, desperate to find the boys another opportunity to audition for the major leagues. J.B. runs into Ray, who introduces him to a Pirates scout who just happened to be out of town for the tryout disaster.
J.B. is able to get the boys a second chance in front of the Pirates scout, this time closer to their home away from home at U.S.C. The boys are again nervous, but J.B. sends Amit – the wanna-be coach – out to talk to them and calm them down. He approaches the boys in the field, overcomes his own nervousness about speaking to the players without his notes, and speaks some of the best lines of the movie. In fact, I think Amit is the best character in the movie. He has a huge heart. He’s funny, quick, and fun to watch. Amit tells the boys that everyone in India is proud of them and small children all over are wishing they can grow up to be just like them.
The pitching begins and you don’t see the speed or accuracy, but the smiles on everyone’s faces tell you what you need to know. From the celebration about to start, the film cuts to a news clip of an actual interview between a reporter and the real Rinku & Dinesh after they were both offered a contract worth one million dollars with the Pittsburgh Pirates!
Million Dollar Arm is rated PG and has a running time of 124 minutes.