Friday, May 16, 2014

How Much For the Arm? "Million Dollar Arm"

Movie Review by Jack Silbert
There’s no baseball fan quite like a young baseball fan, poring over rosters, statistics, and transactions, living and breathing the game. I feel like that’s who Million Dollar Arm is squarely aimed at. Unless your kids have really been hankering to see Don Draper in a kinder, gentler setting.

And I’m not just talking about kids who “kind of” like baseball. You know, they go out and play catch now and then, maybe watch the occasional game. That will not cut it for Million Dollar Arm. Go watch The Bad News Bears, or Angels in the Outfield, or 42 instead.

But for those devoted fan kids, this may truly hit the sweet spot. It’s officially approved by Major League Baseball. And it’s the rare film that gets the game right — except that a lot of it is from the business side of things. Which may not excite all kids. (Don’t worry, Spider-Man 2 is still at the multiplex, and Godzilla just arrived.)

Great form! Madhur Mittal shows
off his style.
Jon Hamm plays a struggling sports agent. Yes, he does look, talk, and behave sort of like Don Draper, maybe with a little more pent-up rage. He gets a crazy idea to save his agency: Find major-league-quality pitchers in that untapped market, India. So there is a strong multicultural component to this film — Indian culture is not just given lip service or played for comedy. There are subtitles and everything!

Hamm brings two top prospects back to the United States, so brace yourselves for some fish-out-of-water antics. (Indeed, the biggest laugh from the kids in my screening audience was when one of the Indian players admits his new fondness for pizza. And that is Papa John’s pizza, you product-placement watchdogs.)

Marhur Hittal, Pitobash, Jon Hamm
and Suraj Sharma in a heated
The screenwriter is Tom McCarthy, who has previously made the fine grown-up fare The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win, and on the kids’ front, wrote the huge hit Up. Here, he avoids the standard Disney template — the early-going is actually surprisingly slow-paced. But they do squeeze in a love story (Hamm and the charming Lake Bell), tack on a not-quite convincing “fun is more important than business” message, and it all leads up to this film’s equivalent of the “big game,” a tryout for major league scouts. One minor gripe: I didn’t mind the boilerplate inspirational pep talk, but based on the characters involved, it is inexplicably delivered in English.

And definitely mention to your children that this is based on a true story — I think that adds some real substance to the movie’s “don’t give up on your far-fetched dreams” message. (And stay for the end credits, which feature photos of the real-life people.) It doesn’t matter if you’re too small, too tall, in the wrong neighborhood, or in the wrong country: Keep pursuing your passions. Million Dollar Arm reminds us that even when the odds are one in a million, you might just be that one.

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