Inspired by real events, Million Dollar Arm tells the story of down-on-his-luck, arrogant sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) who fails to land a superstar athlete to save his struggling company.
After a pow-wow with his associate Ash (Aasif Mandvi) and subsequently channel-surfing between a cricket match and Susan Boyle passionately singing “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent, J.B. is inspired to devise a scheme to redeem his business. His plan? To head to India to find a pair of cricket players that he can turn into the next American Major League pitching phenoms through a contest he calls “Million Dollar Arm.”
His efforts seem to be successful – that is, until he discovers the winning boys Rinku Singh (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal) aren’t actually cricket players, a fact he learned only after they’d touched down in L.A. With some help from USC baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), a cranky MLB scout (Alan Arkin) as well as his tenant-turned-love interest Brenda (Lake Bell), J.B. seemingly has the tools to pull off his scheme effortlessly – but will he?
The only major issue this film has is that Hamm can’t quite shake off his cooler-than-cool, Don Draper-in-Mad Men persona. While you truly want to feel sorry for J.B., you don’t quite go there with him – the fact he dismisses his tenant Brenda as a potential love interest “because she isn’t a model” isn’t very enticing to get you to root for him. Also, his motives for the competition are questionable, since it mostly benefits his business and isn’t out of the kindness of his heart.
Lake Bell is one of the more redeeming characters in the film. As the no-nonsense, optimistic tenant who seems to be the only one who truly cares for the boys, she is a breath of refreshing air in a film with so many who are only out for themselves. The best part: she calls J.B. out and puts him in his place when he’s acting out, which is quite often, and seems to be the only one who tries to get to know the boys.
Speaking of the two aspiring players, Rinku and Dinesh, they are equally intriguing. Their fish-out-of-water culture shock scenes are some of the film’s best moments, including their discovery of an affinity for pizza and a hilarious scene where they learn American slang and pop culture references from watching episodes of The Hills. You can’t help but wish that the movie was told from their point of view. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film is essentially Jerry Maguire meets Slumdog Millionaire, but is nonetheless a heartwarming movie that touches all of the right emotional spots. While Disney doesn’t quite hit a home run with this one, it’s still a solid hit. Million Dollar Arm is in theaters May 16.