Damon Smith is charmed by this dose of Disney feel-good and the radiant Jon Hamm
If Jerry Maguire and Slumdog Millionaire gave birth to an impossibly cute love child, it would look something like Million Dollar Arm.
Based on an incredible true story, Craig Gillespie’s unapologetically feel-good sports drama follows a down-on-his-luck agent, who attempts to introduce baseball to India via an outlandish rags-to-riches competition.
Screenwriter Tom McCarthy fashions an armful of well-worn clichés into an irresistibly sweet and charming tale of triumph against adversity that scores a home run when it matters.
Key to the film’s appeal is handsome leading man Jon Hamm, who swaps the tailored suits of Mad Men for more casual attire as he travels around south Asia, searching for diamonds in the rough to an evocative soundtrack composed by AR Rahman.
Hamm lights up the screen and enjoys comic interludes with Alan Arkin playing a grouchy baseball scout, who steps into the stifling heat of foreign climes and growls: “Get me to a hotel and don’t wake me up again until someone’s throwing a baseball.”
Sports agent JB Bernstein (Hamm) and business partner Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi) are on the brink of financial ruin.
They need to find fresh talent who can, in the words of Cuba Gooding Jr in Jerry Maguire, show them the money.
Unfortunately, home-grown sports stars are thin on the ground and overseas audiences are nuts about cricket, a sport which JB abhors: “It’s like an insane asylum opened up and all the inmates were allowed to play a game.”
Late one night, JB has a brainwave: a competition to bring two bowlers from India to America to challenge for a lucrative Major League Baseball contract.
Wealthy businessman Chang (Tzi Ma) finances the scheme but demands results within 12 months.
Flanked by translator Amit (Pitobash) and scout Ray Poitevint (Arkin), JB travels around India and unearths two raw talents: Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma).
They head for JB’s plush apartment in America where fish-out-of-water Dinesh and Rinku train under pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton).
JB neglects his charges until Brenda (Lake Bell), the pretty ER nurse who rents his guesthouse, pricks his conscience. “They need to see you care,” she warns him.
Million Dollar Arm is a polished amalgamation of countless other sports movies that compel us to root for the underdog.
Familiarity breeds delight in Gillespie’s film, relying on a strong ensemble cast to milk laughter and tears when it seems the script will strike out.
Cinematographer Gyula Pados contrasts the rich colours of India with cold, clinical greys of corporate profit-driven America.
The romantic subplot involving Hamm and Bell follows the same trajectory as the rest of the film, but we’re powerless to resist each predictable beat of the characters’ hearts.
Million Dollar Arm (PG)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharma, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, Pitobash, Tzi Ma