Million Dollar Arm (2014)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 19, 2014 @

Million Dollar Arm could be subtitled The Best Exotic Marigold Pitching Mound.

It's a genial - in this case, Disneyfied - human interest tale that is loosely based on an actual occurrence.

Facts are not a primary concern of Disney. Remember Disney's Invincible (2006) had Vince Papale score a climactic TD on a lengthy run, when Papale never scored a touchdown in actuality.

In Million Dollar Arm, J.B. Bernstein (John Hamm) and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) have a failing sports agency, which is going broke, in Los Angeles. In actuality Bernstein wasn't in such dire straits.

In the movie, watching tv at home, Bernstein sees a cricket match. On another station, he sees Britain's Got Talent with Simon Cowell and sensation Susan Boyle. This is the wrong timeline, but Disney isn't influenced by such concerns.

The movie soft-pedals the concept of creating a reality show as Bernstein's motivation. Instead it focuses on the agent's going to India to find two young athletes who can be brought to the United States and transformed into pitchers who will get a major league tryout.

Bernstein has contests across India, and finally finds his pair of potential money-makers. They are Rinka (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal). In the U.S. they go through culture shock and lack of confidence.

At the same time, Bernstein is struggling between his personal life and his driving professional commitment. He's strung out.

But he and the boys - with help from a caring woman (Lake Bell) - prevail.

When I saw that the screenplay for Million Dollar Arm was credited to Tom McCarthy, I worried for him. Was he now a Mouseketeer?

I'm an avid fan of filmmaker Tom McCarthy. All three of the films he wrote and directed were on my 10 best of the year lists. They are The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2007), and Win Win (2011). McCarthy's greatest forte is character. He is very much a humanist. His films are steeped in natural behavior.

McCarthy believes in gray areas; Disney avoids gray. It likes color.

Million Dollar Arm is more a Disney film than a McCarthy film. He wrote the screenplay, but didn't direct it. McCarthy is able to retain some of his engaging, natural quality, but the movie veers into Disneyland on occasion.

When Brenda (Lake Bell) asks one of the lads Rinka what music he likes, he answers Eminem. Guess what? She's listening to Eminem at that moment. The other lad Dinesh says his favorite is Keith Urban. Ah, another target audience hit.

Brenda later says as she's watching The Pride of the Yankees (1942) on tv, it's the "saddest movie I've ever seen." Yeah, it's a chick flick.

And the climactic pep talk by the Indian Amit (Pitobash) is long and slathered in music.

Craig Gillespie isn't the director that McCarthy can be, but he keeps things moving. He, McCarthy, and the cast create a film that has enough accuracy and emotional impact to be an appealing experience.

Million Dollar Arm is like an intentional walk.

At least, you're on base - with a smile on your face.

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