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article imageReview: ‘Million Dollar Arm’ stays in the strike zone Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 15, 2014 in Entertainment
‘Million Dollar Arm’ is a delight in family-friendly, feel-good fair depicting the real-life story of two young men from India who win a contest that could lead to a major league baseball contract in America.
Through television, movies and books, the American dream spread to become somewhat of a universal ideal. For most young people growing up in developing countries, a chance to go to the United States and obtain the lifestyle they've watched and read about is strictly fantasy. In Million Dollar Arm, two young men from India are given the opportunity to do just that by learning America's pastime: baseball.
JB (Jon Hamm) desperately needs a big break. It's been three years since he and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) struck out on their own and started a sports agency. And it's been three years without signing a big client. Inspired by desperation and alcohol, JB concocts a foolproof plan — scouting Indian cricket players for Major League Baseball's newest pitchers. It's a challenge to put together a willing team and the transition between sports is not as simple as they'd wanted, but the Million Dollar Arm contest does produce two hopefuls: Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) — neither of who had ever thrown a baseball before the competition. Overwhelmed by their first trip away from their villages and unsupported by a distracted JB, their initial progress is unimpressive. Thankfully JB's attractive tenant (Lake Bell) puts him back on track (repeatedly).
This film is the feel good movie of the year thus far. JB and Aash's partnership is reciprocal in that they have a solid working relationship and a light-hearted friendship that appears genuine. Once in India, the cultural differences and contrasting customs supply a lot of humour as JB tries to pull everything together in a foreign country that apparently runs on bribes. The addition of Alan Arkin as the only scout willing to make the trip is brilliant. He portrays a grumpy old man with years of experience and no interest in anyone who lacks potential, but an ear that accurately detects the speed a baseball is traveling. On the opposite end of the excitement meter is the contest's unpaid intern Amit (Pitobash), who carries his enthusiasm across the ocean to serve as translator and documentarian.
A scene from  Million Dollar Arm
A scene from 'Million Dollar Arm'
Walt Disney Pictures
In fine Hollywood tradition, the young men's amazement is soon replaced with sadness and frustration. There is a lot of self-inflicted pressure to be successful, which effortlessly sucks the fun out of any task. Of course these narratives are about redemption (no matter how many times it takes to get it right). It's during this stage of the script that the story becomes incredibly sweet. The boys get more comfortable and JB transforms into less of a jerk concerned only with the bottom line by viewing them as people rather than investments.
Hamm once again takes on the role of committed bachelor and workaholic. It's a character-type in which he excels even though the suits are sometimes replaced by polo shirts in this film. However, his history with the behaviour does carry some preconceived notions that may be difficult to overlook for some viewers. Mandvi is an adequate sidekick that is always good for a laugh when he takes the screen. Bell pushes through the smaller part to make her presence felt each time she appears with her charming nature. And Sharma, Mittal and Pitobash are the most authentic element of the picture, perfectly portraying the small fishes dropped into a giant aquarium of shiny things and lined with spectators.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi and Alan Arkin
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