Million Dollar Arm begins with Jon Hamm looking straight down the camera, delivering a slick, deliberately Don Draper-esque ‘pitch’ to a client, only for the curtain to be pulled back and we discover his character JB is actually only practicing, and nervous, and needing to deliver in order to keep his sports agency afloat. It’s quite a nice little wink to the audience, giving the impression that the film is ready to play with preconceptions of its star. Million Dollar Arm‘s main surprise is how it takes the coolest guy in the world (Jon Hamm, obviously) and makes him seem so boring.
‘Based on a true story’, Million Dollar Arm is about a struggling sports agent coming up with the idea of going to India, the land of cricket obsessives and finding someone capable of becoming a Major League Baseball pitcher, with the hope of capitalising on a previously untapped market of over a billion people. Its raison d’être is already shaky. As any real sports fan can attest, cricket is a far more interesting and nuanced sport than baseball, and that’s coming from an American. My own misgivings aside, Million Dollar Arm is neither playful nor dramatic. It’s got Disney written all over its poster and a PG certificate but it’s certainly not entertainment for children. It’s serious, long and tiring. It’s baggy to the point of tedium, featuring what feels like infinite, lengthy and less than cinematic sequences featuring hapless Indians throwing baseballs: “74 mph, that’s decent”, “54 mph, oh dear!”, “65 mph, ok”, “78 mph, that’s good” – who writes and edits this drivel? The tension is non existent, not to mention that there’s obviously a lot more to good pitching than the film lets on.
The film treats its Indian subjects with the same stereotypically condescending attitude usually attributed to Indians popping up in American or British movies. They’re naive, happy-go-lucky and mild figures of comedy. But the film’s two discovered baseball talents Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma) don’t actually like cricket – so that’s one concession to bucking stereotypes.The film follows the well-walked sports drama path, which isn’t a problem if it’s done well but its characters are insipid and the tone is so undefined and ponderous which makes the constant setbacks suffered by the Indian pitchers all the more insufferable. Unbelievably, even Jon Hamm in a suit can’t save this one.
Million Dollar Arm is out on 29th August in the UK. Running time 124 mins. Certificate PG (UK).
Review by David Rank