By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When a talented pitcher tosses a great game, just as expected, no baseball fan of his team minds the game’s predictability, right?
Well, that’s pretty much the way you’ll feel about Million Dollar Arm, an inspirational baseball flick that does exactly what you expect it to and doesn’t apologize for its straightforwardness or its conventionally crowd-pleasing nature.
Jon Hamm — still best known for his charismatic and mysterious advertising executive, Don Draper, in the television series, “Mad Men” — stars in this biographical baseball drama, based on the true story of two young pitchers recruited in India, which heretofore had never produced a baseball player, by sports agent JB Bernstein, played by Hamm.
Bernstein sets up a reality show competition in India (the name of which gives the film its title) and, even though baseball is virtually unknown in India, thousands of inappropriate hopefuls turn out to audition when the promotion becomes an immediate sensation.
Attempting to attract talented cricketers in this untapped market for athletic talent, JB hopes to turn up some raw talents who can be coached into being Major League Baseball pitching stars. Right now, at least, this seems the only way that he’ll be able to keep his struggling Los Angeles sports agency afloat.
Aasif Mandvi plays Bernstein’s pragmatic partner, Aash, a family man who wisely worries that their agency is about to go under.
Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal and Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma play the two prospects, Dinesh and Rinku, while Lake Bell is Brenda, womanizer Bernstein’s sensible and sensitive neighbor, who wouldn’t appear to be his type as she displays a maternal touch when Dinesh and Rinku become JB’s houseguests.
And Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton — as a retired, narcoleptic baseball scout and the brusque USC pitching coach, respectively — add veteran support as well.
When Bernstein returns with his two promising hurlers in tow, he fails to factor in just how difficult a cultural transition Los Angeles will be for these two 18-year-old, fish-out-of-water, Indian villagers. And just as their priorities have suddenly and unexpectedly changed, so do his, willy-nilly.
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Mr. Woodcock, Fright Night) shot much of the film on location in Mumbai, adding a dash of actuality to this true but nonetheless seemingly farfetched sports fairy tale.
And, interestingly enough, there is precious little actual baseball footage, rendering it -– perhaps uniquely -– a baseball flick with no baseball.
The screenplay, by Thomas McCarthy, who also wrote and directed the sports-themed Win Win, is anything but inventive, but it supplies a puppy-dog charm that’s tough to resist.
Hamm, already experienced in revealing the dark side of a focal character, does so again here, bringing a warts-and-all approach to his lead role that provides a bit of edge to this otherwise cuddly flick.
So we’ll record a radar gun reading of 3 stars out of 4. Don’t look for any tricky curve balls in the rags-to-riches sports drama, Million Dollar Arm. But it’s right over the heart of the plate — literally.