Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Million Dollar Arm’

 *** out of 5
124 minutes
Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Million Dollar Arm’ on Blogcritics.

It’s interesting to see how much the facts can change when adapting a real-life story into a movie. In the case of Million Dollar Arm it may have been done to add a more human element to the story by focusing on the reality TV contest creator J.B. Bernstein, but the real course of the story behind the first Indian pro-baseball players may have made for a far more interesting movie. J.B. doesn’t come across as the most likeable sort of character, no matter how many violins swell.

Poor director Craig Gillespie had two home runs prior to Million Dollar Arm with Lars and the Real Girl and the Fright Night remake, but this feels completely like a contract film. Something Gillespie was forced into directing, either so he could give us Fright Night or for whatever comes next. It’s not the first time a director has been forced into this situation, and it won’t be the last. Unfortunately, his ability to handle drama and comedy in equal measures does not cross over here.

Million Dollar Arm, Jon HammIn this version of the story, J.B. (Jon Hamm) has gone Jerry Maguire and opens Seven Figures Management, hoping to score one big client to get caught up on their office lease. Meanwhile, J.B. lives alone in a giant house, with his future-wife Brenda (Lake Bell), renting his guesthouse. One night, while flipping back and forth between a cricket game and Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent discovery, J.B. hatches a plan to find the world’s first Indian baseball player to open up the sports world to a billion new fans. Now, J.B. heads to India where he meets baseball fan Amit (Pitobash) and talent scout Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), to hold a pitching contest where the winners get to return with him to America for a chance to sign a million dollar MLB contract.

Anyone who even vaguely researches the real story already knows how Million Dollar Arm ends. I actually stumbled upon on last Sunday while Hamm was conducting interviews before the Pittsburgh Pirates game. But it’s not like you can’t figure out where the film is headed even if you don’t know. There are only two Indian characters with dialogue: Dinesh Patel (Life of Pi’s Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Slumdog Millionaire’s Suraj Sharma). Needless to say, Gillespie simply goes through the motions where life lessons are learned and the film wraps up its happy endings, while fish-out-of-water shenanigans ensue in what feels more like a TV pilot than a movie.

When your film features the likes of Hamm, Bell, and Arkin, yet has no charm to speak of, you’re doing it all wrong. Blame usually lies on the director, but some of it has to go to screenwriter Tom McCarthy which comes as a surprise considering he also wrote and directed The Station Agent and Win Win, along with being credited with the story for Up. Had the film featured any kind of adrenaline it could have been a rousing crowd-pleaser. As it stands, only the most patient viewers will be able to endure the padded two-hour runtime. Million Dollar Arm is a complete swing and a miss.

Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

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