16 June 2014
Million Dollar Arm isn’t really a movie smart, discerning people are supposed to love. It’s Disney live-action feel-good goofiness starring a beloved actor who’s being paid exorbitant amounts of money to put his good name on a silly piece of fluff (the actual acting required- at least from Jon Hamm- is minimal). But I liked this feel-good fluff. It doesn’t feel vacant or sinister in its commercialism nor does it try to be anything it’s not. I’m not supposed to say that Million Dollar Arm is a movie I think you should see, because that would be feeding the Disney machine. And we all know machines can’t make art, right? Shut up, pretentious hippies! Relax, grab some popcorn, and go see Million Dollar Arm. At the very least, it will make you smile.
Jon Hamm is one of the more interesting humans in Hollywood yet he’s somehow the least interesting human in this movie by quite a huge margin. He’s still charming as hell (it’s the Hamm way) but as far as leading men go, JB is about as refreshing as stale bread and there’s not much Hamm can do to fix that. He’s spoiled, solitary and jaded until he goes on a selfishly motivated journey that ultimately changes him for the better- I can’t think of a story more tired. What’s far more compelling is, well, everything else about the movie including Aasif Mandvi as JB’s cricket-loving sidekick and Lake Bell as his wise and grounded right-in-front-of-his-eyes slowburn love interest. Alan Arkin is good for a pile of simple laughs as an oldschool/just-plain-old MLB scout and Pitobash nearly steals the whole film as wannabe coach Amit (the fact that he gets the film’s equivalent of the locker room speech is just perfect).
But it’s Rinku and Dinesh who make the movie. In his quest to save his own career, JB sets out to India to find a cricket bowler to cover to an MLB pitcher. He returns from the diverting contest scenes with two handsome young Indians in tow and it’s their fish-out-of-water journey to the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system via intense training in LA at the hands of Bill Paxton that really makes the movie work. The biggest thing the producers did right in making this film was take Rinku and Dinesh seriously. They’re played for very few laughs (though there are still plenty) and portrayed by two young men with serious chops and charm. Suraj Sharma is delightful as the quirkier of the two, Rinku (you remember him, he carried an entire Oscar-winning movie by standing alone in big blue room) but it’s Madhur Mittal’s soulful performance as the strong and silent Dinesh that really raises the emotional stakes of the film. He’s impossibly easy to root for and an underdog worth rooting for is the soul of every great sports movie, every great Disney flick and, really, most good movies in general. If feel-good sports movies are something you enjoy even a little bit, Million Dollar Arm is one worth seeing.