Million Dollar Arm is based on the true story of a sports agent who goes to India seeking new baseball pitching talent for a TV reality show. Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) plays J.B. Bernstein, a man who is interested only in business and in maintaining his luxurious, self-absorbed lifestyle. He and his partner, Aash (Aasif Mandvi), desperate for a big break after going independent, drum up an investor to make a TV-ready pitching contest possible. Traveling throughout India, they eventually they find their two winners, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh—played brilliantly by actors Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma. Patel and Singh are brought to the United States to train as pitchers and take part in a MLB tryout.
As time before the tryouts grows short, J.B. can only see his potential pitchers and their lack of progress. Meanwhile, his neighbor and possible love interest (Lake Bell) and the baseball trainer (Bill Paxton) can see that he is missing the bigger picture. These athletes are young and they are far away from home. J.B. has a responsibility to them and their families.
All of the performances elevate the script from its formulaic tendencies; footage of India and Bollywood-style music add a lot to the production. This is a feel-good summer story with good acting and a redemptive storyline. That said, there are some missteps.
First off, J.B. is put off by his initial experiences in India. His fast-paced, highly scheduled life clashes with the more people-centered culture he finds there. Unfortunately, the film’s humor comes at the expense of the Indian people rather than the man who is trying to impose his order on another world. Telling the story from Patel’s and Singh’s points of view rather than from J.B.’s perspective might have more effectively revealed some of the ridiculousness of North American life. Instead the movie comes off as condescending.
And although the PG rating might make you think this would be a great family film, parents should keep in mind that the film makes clear, without actually showing any sexual activity, that J.B. is sleeping with women to whom he is not married. While this in part shows his development as he moves from shallow relationships to deeper ones, his conquests are treated as a source of humor.
The main direction of the film, however, is the story of J.B. learning to look closer at other people, other cultures, and his own life to find out what really matters to him.
It’s not a home run, but there is a lot to enjoy in Million Dollar Arm.