‘Million Dollar Arm’ strangles self with wrong focus, framing

By Rhiannon Root,
Author Rating: 
2.5 Stars

In a movie about two Indian athletes learning how to play baseball in America, you’d think that the central conflict would be about them mastering the game and dealing with homesickness. It isn’t. The big conflict of Million Dollar Arm is whether their sports agent can keep his swanky house and continue having sex with beautiful models.

That wasn’t a joke.

There are a lot of good things about Million Dollar Arm, its scenery is gorgeous, there are genuinely funny moments as well as sweet ones, the performances are consistent and enjoyable, and for the most part, the pacing is good. (It does drag in spots, especially toward the end.) And it isn’t nearly the giant sentimental schlock-fest it’s marketed to be.

So that should add up to a good, if not great movie, right? Hardly. The film is mediocre at best and has some troubling aspects to it.

JB (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent who started his own business with his buddy Aash (Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show fame). They’re struggling to keep afloat in these troubling economic times and really, really need clients.

Unfortunately, their best bet, an athlete named Popo, doesn’t sign with them, which puts further strain on an already floundering business. After hanging out and watching cricket, JB gets an idea: find an Indian cricket player and turn him into a baseball star in America. Jackpot!

After finding a trainer, a talent scout and a financial backer, JB is all set to go to India. After searching and searching JB, his overly enthusiastic assistant, Amit, (Pitobash) and the sleepy trainer, Ray, (Alan Arkin) find two guys who could potentially be decent baseball players.

But, hilarious plot twist, neither one of them play cricket! And both don’t really like that sport either. Ha!

The two players Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) are brought back to America with JB and company and begin their baseball training. They have just a year to learn and master pitching before trying out for the MLB.

This is also where the film noticeably begins to falter. Rinku, Dinesh and Amit are all fish out of water and cultural misunderstandings and wackiness abound, especially when overly serious, workaholic JB neglects them for long stretches of time. Worse yet, this is also the part of the film when the audience knows precisely where the film is going, which makes it drag all even more.

The problems with this movie are not ones of content, but rather of focus and framing. While the movie does have a sense of humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is trope-tastic. First, there’s the white messiah coming to rescue the poor, brown people from abject poverty. The worst part of this being that the audience never really gets into either of Rinku’s or Dinesh’s stories, they’re nearly interchangeable. Such a thing is frustrating because their stories are about a thousand times more compelling than watching JB look exasperated and worry about paying his bills.

Then there’s the issue with Dinesh, Rinku and Amit collectively teaching JB that life isn’t about being awesome, single, having a huge house and having sex with beautiful women. No! It’s about getting married and having a family.

Enter Million Dollar Arm’s issues with female characters. There are exactly two female characters that have a decent-sized role, Brenda (Lake Bell), the love interest and Theresa (Allyn Rachel), the secretary. Both are white. Both are conventionally attractive and neither one interacts with the other. There are couple of other women in the movie, Rinku’s mom and JB’s model girlfriend, but neither one is in more than two scenes. The audience never sees Aash’s wife.

At its core, Million Dollar Arm is a heartwarming underdog story. Had it stuck to that and focused on the actual protagonists, this movie could have been fantastic. The acting is solid, especially Alan Arkin’s grumpy scout and Bill Paxton’s wise trainer, but it should be more than this. Million Dollar Arm could have been a classic story told in an unfamiliar way, but it isn’t and it's deeply unsatisfying because it’s a missed opportunity.

Ultimately, this is lazy, cowardly storytelling. Go see something else this weekend.



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