Million Dollar Arm (2014)

Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Thomas McCarthy

There is not a single baseball movie that I don’t enjoy. I start my review with that statement as a sort of qualifier for the review. Since Million Dollar Arm is a baseball movie, I knew going in I would at the very least enjoy myself. Now, I try as best I can to separate out the fact that I can glean joy from a film and being able to appreciate it in its craft. For example, I don’t stand here and try and argue that Mr. 3000 or Hardball are great movies. But I enjoy the crap out of both of them, without shame. As an enormous fan of the game of baseball, I am biased. I admit that. I also admit that my slant may not account for the non-baseball fan. I finally admit that the Disney saccharine of this film is neither a surprise, or a detriment to the film.

Disney has never been accused of being dark, gritty, or even realistic for that matter. Instead Disney consistently opens up their imagination, hope and positive outlook. Imagine this: a sports agent (Jon Hamm) who broke with a big time firm to try and make it on his own. He’s not making it. Imagine this: two Indian kids who have never picked up a baseball, let alone played the game at all, win a special competition that nets them money, and a trip to America to train for a Major League tryout. Seems pretty sketch to me, but of course Disney also only deals in true inspiring stories. So our heroes Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) are no longer a dream, but a reality. Real fish out of water, attempting to bring a new sport to a billion people. Heh, I guess Disney is realistic.

What we have here, as you might expect from the above paragraph, is standard Disney fare. But before you discount the film based on that statement, realize that what Disney has done for 80 years now is produce good, family friendly entertainment. Everything about this film is designed to appeal to the masses, but in doing so, it hits all the highlights of genre to get there, and it does it fairly well. There is comedy, there is drama, there is romance, there is inspiration and opposition, there is sport, friendship and even a cultural education. We get the kitchen sink, and as a result it may not be found in the upper echelon of the Disney catalogue, but because it cares first and foremost about its characters, it succeeds.

Rinku and Dinesh are two kids worth cheering for, and the filmmakers seemed to make perfect casting decisions bringing in Sharma and Mittal, who found their way to American audiences in Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, respectively. Although coming from a different culture, they remain extremely relatable as they go through the culture shock. Amit (Pitobash) provides the comic relief, Brenda (Lake Bell) the romantic interest and inspiration, and Bill Paxton surprises as the unorthodox pitching coach that shows real heart in trying to turn two kids into Major League pitchers. Meanwhile, Hamm, the lead in the film, leaves something to be desired from his role, and perhaps some of that disappointment comes from his character being a bit of a jerk through most of the film. But I was not surprised to find out that Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, Up, Win Win) was the one who penned the film. He has consistently shown a knack for putting the character first, and giving the audience something to connect with.

It’s hard to be over the moon about anything in this movie, but by the end it also becomes increasingly difficult to say anything bad. The finished product takes us on a pretty incredible journey right alongside these two kids and while it ultimately ends up being somewhat conventional in its outer shell, the inner workings of the characters and performances make for a fairly uplifting movie going experience. It doesn’t blow you away, it doesn’t break new baseball movie ground, it doesn’t break the rules. Instead Million Dollar Arm manages to entertain by staying strictly within the conventions and rules of the “based on a true story” and sports movie genres.

*** – Good

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