By: Matt Conway (Four Beers)-
Sports, whether you love them or hate them, seem to serve as a perfect canvas for film. Like any great film, combatants in a sport face a simple conflict that takes a lot of emotion and effort to supersede. This is why it’s not surprising that throughout the years, many great films have come from the origin of sports. Films like Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, and Remember the Titans have gone on to be some of the best acclaimed sports films.
Perhaps the sport with the best track record of great sports movies is baseball. Ranging from comedies like Major League, to dramas like Field of Dreams, the sport of baseball with its team dynamic and respected past has been a great canvas for any film. Perhaps the best sports film in a long time, Moneyball, proved that, showing the cost that Brad Pitt’s general management character has to go through to win, along with the trials and tribulations of building a successful baseball team. The latest baseball drama Million Dollar Arm makes an attempt to reach a similar level of success, but is largely a forgettable outing.
Million Dollar Arm follows sports agent JB, whose agency is going under after failing to sign any new prospects. To bring his agency back to success, JB gets the idea to try to change cricket players into major league baseball pitchers.
Despite his success on television, it seems as John Hamm has not gotten that many exciting movie roles aside from a supporting role in 2010’s The Town. While this is far from a challenging role, Hamm really soaks up the opportunity to be this charming, fast on his feet kind of guy. Let’s be honest, that is the kind of guy that John Hamm seems to be. Although, Hamm knows to make sure his character does not come off like an arrogant prick, which is important in keeping his character likable.
Surrounding Hamm is a solid supporting cast. Personally, I’m a huge Lake Bell fan, as her directorial debut In a World was one of the better films of last year. Here she gets to play the love interest, but isn’t the typical love interest that is seen in most sports movies. Not only that, but Bell and Hamm have great chemistry together. Both Aasif Mandvi and Alan Arkin also do a solid job in their respective roles, although it seems like Arkin is doing the same performance every time.
Million Dollar Arm has some high points, especially when JB is in India scouting for pitchers. The content itself is actually quite engaging, as there are some funny gags and surprisingly inspirational moments. These scenes are shot very well, as cinematographer Gyula Pados captures India with a lot of beauty, making even the crowded scenes of India have some real beauty to them.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the movie for me was the music. Oscar winning song writer A.R. Rahman is well-known for combining his Indian roots in music with some more contemporary content. Rahman does the same here, and creates some oddly catchy music that really amps up some of the scenes it’s present in.
An issue other sports films have is that they get montage heavy at times, and Million Dollar Arm really suffers from that. Some moments that had potential to be inspirational moments of character building turned into montages, making these moments feel rushed and lose their true emotional value. Montages in some cases really can work well, summing up one key point in a faster way, but here these montages were just not needed.
Pacing in Million Dollar Arm is a huge issue. While during some of the film’s more entertaining moments Million Dollar Arm flies by like a breeze, moving at a great rate while still giving plenty of time to let the story develop, pacing becomes an issue largely in the second half, as the selected Indian pitchers are beginning their journey to join a MLB team. The second half of the film often feels long-winded and repetitive, as the two hour-plus running time feels too long. Personally, it seems like the film could have been edited a good 10 to 15 minutes.
For a film about these Indian men becoming major league pitchers, it seems like the audience hardly gets to know very much about these characters. There are a few nice scenes between the boys and their families before they depart, but once they arrive in America, they begin to lose anything that they have developed as individual people. Instead, these two pitchers played by talented actors (Suraj Sharma of Life of Pi fame and Madhur Mittal who co-stared in Slumdog Millionaire), just are kind of dull, and really could have used some character development to make them pop.
Personally, it feels like Million Dollar Arm is told in the wrong perspective. Like 2009’s The Blind Side, this film tells the story from an outsider pushing the athlete, rather than the athlete themselves. Just think about how much more interesting it would have been to see a movie about two average Indian men win such a contest, and have to deal with the culture shock of America and all that brings. Instead, we get the film from the perspective of the agent, who has a familiar arc that makes his character just very run of the mill.
Perhaps the worst part about Million Dollar Arm how inoffensively bland this movie is. While I didn’t expect Million Dollar Arm to have a very unique story or anything like that, this film just hits all the Disney tropes in the most banal way. From a film directed by the guy who made Lars and the Real Girl and the writer of Up, you’d expect something with a little more originality or liveliness. Instead, Million Dollar Arm nearly put me to sleep at many points during its running time.
While the cast for the most part is game, Million Dollar Arm is one of the more dull and by-the-numbers films of recent memory. Nothing about it is very new or original, making this extremely passable. Go watch Moneyball instead.
Do a Shot: for each time the annoying sidekick comes on screen
Take a Drink: during the terribly tame party scene
Take a Drink: for each sports cliche
Do a Shot: during the awful Indian food gag