Film / Reviews

Million Dollar Arm: 'Even Disney can't completely botch a baseball tale'

by Kaori Shoji

There’s something about baseball that truly gels with movies. My secret conviction is that it’s impossible to make a really terrible baseball movie. Even Disney can’t botch it up completely, which is why their new true-to-life baseball tale “Million Dollar Arm” will wind up making you cry and glad to be alive and all that.

Not that the film is in the same league as legends like “Bull Durham” (1988) and “Field of Dreams” (1989), and as a story about the baseball business, it doesn’t come close to the analytical powers of “Moneyball.” Still, as Tom Berenger once said in “Major League” —”It’s one more season in the sun.” “Million Dollar Arm” can’t be all bad, and, thankfully, it isn’t.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, the story is pitched at an adult audience looking for something they can enjoy with the kids without being bored, hence the presence of John Hamm from “Mad Men.” In the opening scene, Hamm — playing real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein — tries out some sales talk on his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi), rehearsing for a hotshot NFL client who he hopes can be smooth-talked into signing up with them. The whole thing reeks of “Mad Men” aftershave and the grown-up world of deals and cash.

Million Dollar Arm<
Rating
Director Craig Gillespie
Run Time 124 minutes
Language English
Opens Oct. 4

In desperate need of young, unexploited talent, Bernstein flies to India to stage a nationwide, televised audition for baseball players called “Million Dollar Arm.” Young and old hopefuls gather in droves to throw a baseball for the first time in their lives. India is cricket country and baseball is as alien to them as Mars, but lured by a future in the U.S., two boys — Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma) — show they can bring it on. Bernstein takes them back to America, along with interpreter assistant Amit (Pitobash Tripathy), and they seem ready to roll.

The Indian segment is a gorgeous, sensory experience, chaotic with color, texture and noise. Back in Los Angeles, everything seems drab and sanitized, including Bernstein’s resplendent house, where he puts up the boys and Amit after they’re evicted from a hotel. It’s all so quiet. And rather boring.

A huge gripe about “Million Dollar Arm” is that there’s not enough baseball. You feel like a kid who’s promised a game and winds up having to sit in the car while dad wheels and deals on his phone. But the film is also a pretty keen observation of life in the U.S. and the workings of the baseball business. The Indian boys, expecting to be tutored and nurtured, are instead treated just as Bernstein sees them: investment opportunities. And they have to look sharp about it, too, because Bernstein’s sponsor, Chang (Tzi Ma), wants results and he wants them fast.

The pleasant surprise in all this is Alan Arkin, who plays an old baseball scout, Ray. The adults are all in it for the money, but Ray alone is in it for the game. He’s perpetually asleep, either in LA or India, and seems to only wake up when he hears a ball being pitched at over 80 mph. That’s who he is. Without men like Ray, it’s just no fun being out in the sun.

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