Seeing the Disney logo above the title of a live action family film definitely gives me more reasons to worry than to be excited. Even at their absolute worst, Disney’s animated movies still have a pretty great ratio of good to bad. But when it comes to modern day, live action family movies, there are a lot of real stinkers. Movies like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and every Pirates of the Caribbean movie that isn’t the first one. Add to that iconic logo a super feel good story about overcoming the odds, and there were a lot of reasons to be very, very worried about Million Dollar Arm.
Some years ago, LA sports agent JB (Jon Hamm) left his major agency to go out alone and start his own boutique agency with partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi). When their pursuit of a football star is unsuccessful, they have zero clients and bank balances that amount to not much more. Enter Asian business man Change, eager to invest in Asian sports. Stumbling across cricket on TV one night, JB has the idea to combine America’s millions of baseball fans, with India’s millions of cricket fans, and most importantly, Change’s millions of dollars.
With his idea for a reality show that will turn Indian cricketers into American baseball starts, JB sets of for the sub continent with Alan Arkin in tow in his usual role of recent years as a crotchety old crank with a heart of gold. In this case, a crotchety old baseball scout with a heart of gold. Once in India, their posse is filled out by Armit (Pitobash), a local obsessed with all things America and baseball. He might lack a little in experience and practical knowledge, but he more than makes up for it in enthusiasm. After a slow start and plenty of speed bumps, JB eventually comes away with two promising prospects, each with their own convenient, heart string pulling back stories and motivations. There’s Suraj Sharma as Rinku and Madhur Mittal as Dinesh.
Back in America to make their push for a place in the big leagues, Armit, Rinku and Madhur get in all sorts of culture clash based hilarity. We also meet JB’s guest house tenant Brenda (Lake Bell). She’s the easy going, optimistic yin to JB’s success obsessed, materialistic yang, but she might be just the person to teach him about the important things in life. Actually, scratch that. She’s definitely the person to do that, and when they finally hook up, it’s an inevitably every audience member would have predicted the first time she appeared on screen.
There’s also Bill Paxton as local college baseball coach Tom House. But his character is even less developed than this description of him.
Here’s the thing, don’t watch Million Dollar Arm if you want to be surprised in any way. Even if you’ve never seen a movie before, you’ll be able to predict every single plot point, character arc, conflict and conflict resolution within seconds. But it turns out, if you load your cast with likeable people like Hamm, Bell, Arkin and Pitobash, a lot of your heavy lifting in making a good movie is done for you. Because despite the contrivances and predictability, I couldn’t help really liking Million Dollar Arm.