Film Review of the Week: Million Dollar Arm

Before we dive headlong into what will be (spoiler) an overwhelmingly positive review of the new Disney baseball flick, Million Dollar Arm, which opens areawide on Friday, let me try to get blurbed here real quick. Ahem: Million Dollar Arm is a triumph! Million Dollar Arm recalls that glorious era when the happiest marriage in America was Walt Disney and sports! Million Dollar Arm is rated PG and still appeals to adults in totally satisfying ways! Million Dollar Arm is the only party your heart needs to attend all year long! Bring at least three tissues to Million Dollar Arm!

Jon Hamm plays the sports agent JB Bernstein — the film is based on a true story — a man who'd grown weary of monolithic agencies and set out on his own in L.A. At the film's outset, though, he's fallen on hard times. He can't land a major client and struggles to pay his bills while maintaining the requisite lifestyle of Porsches and supermodel sleepovers. In an effort to save his agency, he proposes a talent competition (a la American Idol) to convert cricket hurlers in India into baseball pitchers. India, he persuades a broadly stroked Chinese investor, is the final reservoir of untapped talent on the planet.

Bernstein, with the help of a snoring retired scout (Alan Arkin) and an enthusiastic local (the marvelous Pitobash, in his Hollywood debut) harvests two promising athletes from a pool of thousands and brings them to the United States to learn the game and try out for a major league club. Bernstein navigates a budding romance with his doctor-to-be tenant (Lake Bell) and the thorny gamesmanship of other big-ticket signings, all while seeming to ignore his frightened Indian houseguests who want nothing more than to make their benefactor proud. Will Bernstein continue to treat these gifted young men merely as publicity stunts or will he come to recognize their humanity?

Because it's Disney, the answer should be fairly predictable, but Bernstein's transformation is rendered with originality, humor and tremendous heart. With near-perfect doses of culture-clash comedy, mushy stuff, and baseball montages, not to mention the nuanced performances from both Hamm and the Indian youngsters (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal), this one really is fun for the whole family.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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