By Sandra Kraisirideja
With its long list of sports movie successes, including “The Rookie,” “Remember the Titans,” and “Invincible,” Jon Hamm has made a wise choice in choosing Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm” as his first venture as a leading man.
Beginning in 2000 with “Remember the Titans,” Disney’s sports movies have followed a similar formula: a person or team must overcome incredible odds to achieve success, and along the way those involved grow in ways they could not have imagined.
The stories, which are based on true events, are often uplifting and filled with an entertaining mix of drama and humor. There are moments of romance, but it’s never the focus. The themes touched upon are generally hope, survival, and the importance of family—whatever form it comes in. The main subject is usually an underdog or somehow on the losing end.
“Million Dollar Arm” certainly follows the Disney sports movie formula but Hamm’s character, independent sports agent JB, is probably the most flawed compared to other subjects. In “Invincible, “The Rookie” and “Miracle,” the men had families and were earnest and hard-working. JB is single and completely self-centered. He works hard, but it’s at the expense of creating lasting relationships. His life revolves around work.
There are similarities between JB and Don Draper, the character on “Mad Men” that made Hamm a household name. When we first meet JB he is giving a sales pitch in much the same manner Draper would. His deep, calm voice radiating confidence. It’s easy to see JB as a new millenium Draper given his focus on closing deals.
We discover after JB finishes rehearsing his sales pitch that it is meant for a star football player and his contract will make or break JB’s company. When the deal falls through, JB must figure out how to keep his company afloat.
Bombay-born actor Aasif Mandvi, a frequent correspondent on “The Daily Show,” co-stars as JB’s business partner, Aash. It’s Aash’s love of cricket that gives JB the idea to hold a contest in India called “Million Dollar Arm,” with the premise of finding cricket players to convert into baseball players, thereby introducing the sport to a billion new fans.
About half the movie takes place in India, which helps underscore the fish-out-of-water sequences later in the movie. Suraj Sharma (“Life of Pi”) and Madhur Mittal (“Slumdog Millionaire”) play the young boys, Rinku and Dinesh, who win JBs contest and travel to America. They are great actors and play the sweetness and innocence of the boys with ease.
Rounding out the supporting cast and turning in solid work as usual are Alan Arkin as a seasoned baseball scout; Bill Paxton as the USC baseball coach charged with turning the boys into viable major league prospects; and Lake Bell as JB’s tenant and love interest.
Director Craig Gillespie, working from a script by Thomas McCarthy, holds the tension a beat too long in some scenes but for the most part his choices serve the story well.
“Million Dollar Arm” is a fine addition to the Disney sports movie cannon and it’s sure to go over well with a billion fans in India. And maybe that’s what the folks at Disney wanted all along.