Thursday, May 8, 2014

Million Dollar Arm: Movie Review


A cute and funny story of Indian boys succeeding in America let down
 by a class A jerk for a main character.

Jon Hamm plays down-on-his-luck sports agent JB Bernstein who attempts to find his next big client by turning baseball scouting into a talent contest called “Million Dollar Arm.” Disney’s latest inspirational sports story is based on the true story of the American agent travelling to India to turn a cricket bowler into a baseball pitcher with a major league contract. It’s a true story so it’s predictability is part of its charm, the clash-of-cultures jokes are expected but cute and funny, and the overall story is heart-warming.   2014

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Screenplay by: Thomas McCarthy

Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi

In telling the overall story, we start with some shaky-cam, extreme close-up shots. I have no idea what these nauseating techniques are doing in a Hollywood family film unless it’s to prove that Jon Hamm is really good looking even when his face is six stories tall, but are 30-to-40-year-old women really the target audience? I doubt it. I was originally quite confused about Hamm’s career choice of going from risqué television to raunchy comedies to… a Disney movie? But I was even more confused after seeing him play yet another class A jerk.

When JB first comes up with his idea that he could find an unknown baseball phenom in a country known for cricket, he pitches it to his business partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi) and gets an investor, and then he’s off to India. Most of the humour was pretty good – sweet, predictable, not quite racist – but still funny. Alan Arkin played a retired baseball scout sent to India and he had a number of solid one-liners in between naps. The jokes about how JB couldn’t care less about the Taj Mahal were a little strange, but I guess the film really needed to get across the idea of how much of a jerk JB was.

The introduction of the two eventual Million Dollar Arm winners was a little ham-handed, but that’s to be expected. We all know we’re only going to get to know two of thee Indian kids, so might as well make it obvious. The kids were pretty great. Perhaps surprisingly, their comedy timing was great. They were introduced with drama, but they get their comedy stylings back with the trip to Los Angeles. Heading back to the US was a welcome transition – Mandvi got some more jokes and we got more of Bill Paxton as the smarter-than-JB baseball trainer, and we got more of the clash-of-culture jokes, aided well by the boys’ broken English.

However, back in the US, it became clear just how much of a jerk JB was – we could no longer blame it on being in a foreign country. He was short-tempered and gave zero consideration to the feelings, expectations and needs of his three young imports (the two teenagers plus a hilarious translator-turned-aspiring baseball coach). It was clear to everybody in the Universe why things weren’t going well for the young pitchers. Eventually JB’s cute next door neighbour has a heart-to-heart with him and explains how he needs to be there for the boys and if he doesn’t treat them with love and respect and kindness, then they won’t get what they want, and he won’t get what he wants.

Finally, this is the part of the movie where JB matures and the boys get back on the path of good fortune. Except, he doesn’t. JB doesn’t change. He remains an unlikable, ego-driven, arrogant jackass throughout the movie. And that’s why this movie fails more than it should have. There is no reason to have such an extremely unlikable, class A jerk as the main character especially if he isn’t going to have an epiphany until the very end.

As I said earlier, the Indian boys were great – cute, funny, charming. Exactly the types of people we want to see succeed, and if JB matured when he was supposed to, then we would have gotten to see more of it. I enjoyed the humour and the story of “Million Dollar Arm” but I didn’t see it as inspirational - which it was supposed to be - because of JB’s unwillingness to see what the boys needed to succeed until it was too little too late.