Starring: Jon Hamm (J.B. Bernstein), Madhur Mittal (Dinesh Patel), Suraj Sharma (Rinku Singh), Lake Bell (Brenda Fenwick), Aasif Mandvi (Adh Vasudevan), Alan Arkin (Ray Poitevint), Bill Paxton (Tom House), Allyn Rachel (Theresa), Pitobash (Amit Rohan)
“It’s Hollywood. A movie never can be 100 percent true. You know, they have to put a little cheap cream on top of it to make it taste better. But … it’s real, I’m happy the way they did It.” -Rinku Singh
Million Dollar Arm is the mostly true story of a U.S. sports agent, an investor and the titular Indian reality TV show that propelled its two young South Asian winners into an unlikely career in American baseball.
Disney produced it, adding enough schmaltz and humour to keep test audiences happy. The studio hired A.R. Rahman, the great Indian film composer (Slumdog Millionaire, Naryan, 127 Hours, Kadal, Water) and scriptwriter Tom McCarthy (The Station Master, The Visitor, Up) to insure that the story and soundtrack to the film was OK. They cast Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame to make it sexy; Madhur Mittal, one of the stars of Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma to give the film Indian credibility; Lake Bell, star and director of In A World… to add Indie cred and the great character actors Bill Paxton and Alan Arkin to spice up the action. But they couldn’t resist making this unique tale into a Hollywood film.
Sports agent J.B. Bernstein is at his wit’s end. All of his best clients—Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders—have retired. He needs a new gimmick. Channel clicking between Susan Boyle singing and a cricket match, it hits him. Why not create a contest TV show in which South Asians would compete to throw the fastest baseball? The winner—the million-dollar arm—would be taken to the US and trained to become a professional ballplayer.
Bankrolled by San Francisco financier Mr. Chang, aided by aging scout Ray Poitevint and young Indian translator/baseball enthusiast Amit Rohan, Bernstein successfully pulls off the marketing of the show and finds two great candidates, the winner Rinku Singh and runner-up Dinesh Patel.
In Los Angeles, life is not easy for the young Indian stars or their sports agent mentor. Rinku, Dinesh and Amit have to adjust to a high tech land of commerce, carnality and fast food. J.B. has to realise that he’s important to his young protégées: they are far more than clients and desperately need his help in order to make it in America.
Just at the right time, J.B. becomes involved with Brenda, an attractive and absolutely real woman, who cares about people and is a far contrast from the vacuous but gorgeous girlfriends he’s had in the past. Brenda becomes a friend to the South Asian lads while J.B. gradually accepts his new role as a true adviser to Dinesh and Rinku.
With the immense help of USC coach and former baseball pitcher Tom House, the boys develop their skills. But Mr. Chang insists that the lads give a high profile try-out before they’re truly ready.
Will Dinesh and Rinku make it as ballplayers? And will J.B. conquer his superficial impulses and recognise that Brenda is the right woman for him?
The true story of J.B., Chang, Dinesh, Rinku, Brenda, Amit and the others is wonderful. Million Dollar Arm shows how you can think outside of the system and make a genuine impact. The real Bernstein and Chang (and others) expect to have hundreds of thousands of contestants competing at their next TV show. No one is expecting to have baseball replace cricket as the most important Indian sport but the film and the TV show may well capture the public’s imagination in the sub-continent.
You can’t help but feel excited and impressed by the idea behind Million Dollar Arm. So it’s sad to acknowledge that the film is woefully conventional, placing the majority of the plot and emotional access around the character of Bernstein, who is simply too superficial to inspire Jon Hamm to make much of him. Sadly, there is no chemistry between Lake Bell’s Brenda and Jon Hamm’s Bernstein—another setback for the film.
Million Dollar Arm should have been about the crazy contest and the two South Asian boys settling in America. The film we see on the screen doesn’t come close to matching the real story behind Million Dollar Arm. Instead we have temper tantrums, puking scenes, and innumerable false melodramatic touches.
Million Dollar Arm is a likeable film. Should it have better? Yes. But is it a nice film for kids to see? Absolutely.
Bottom line? Disney should have trusted the story.