Published May 15, 2014There are those that might dismiss a film like Million Dollar Arm as nothing more than another derivative slice of sports schmaltz from Disney in the vein of The Rookie and Miracle but, as Charlie Kaufman's fictional screenwriting twin brother Donald was fond of reminding in Adaptation, a formulaic script like this only employs a template that has been proven to work before as its foundation. The broadly appealing comedy combines several tried-and-true story arcs — including not one but two fish-out-of-water scenarios — to craft a heart-warming crowd-pleaser from the genuinely inspirational true story of the first players from India to have a brush with Major League Baseball.
When we first meet sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), times are tough. His most lucrative clients have all retired and, despite his best efforts, he loses the opportunity to represent a promising NFL player named Popo (real-life Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga). One night as he's flipping the channels back and forth between Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent and a game of cricket, he's struck with a great notion. He decides to set up a reality show in India called Million Dollar Arm in an effort to discover a couple of cricket players whose talents can be developed to potentially pitch in the majors.
With the help of a grizzled scout (Alan Arkin) and Amit (Pitobash Tripathy), an enthusiastic baseball fan in India who volunteers his translation services, J.B. journeys around the country while enduring scores of mediocre try-outs and digestive problems from the foreign cuisine. Eventually finding Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), two kids whose velocity and control prove superior to the other contestants, J.B. brings them back to California to try and have a pitching coach (Bill Paxton) quickly prepare them for a work-out in front of major league scouts.
It's not hard to predict how Dinesh and Rinku will struggle to harness their raw skills on the mound as they adapt to the strange new culture they find themselves inhabiting or to envision the lessons J.B. will need to learn about caring for them as human beings and not just meal tickets. Still, it's good to see Hamm tap into his underutilized comedic chops, and the script is funny and sweet, allowing for some nice moments from the supporting cast in the margins of its strict adherence to a classic structure.
It's the kind of film where a gorgeous actress like Lake Bell plays the literal girl-next-door that initially goes unnoticed due to J.B.'s track record of only dating models. You can only wonder how long it's going to be before sparks are flying between the two, but it's a testament to the abilities of the actors and the power of Disney's proven formula that it all still goes down so easy.