Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content
Written by Thomas McCarthy (screenplay)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin and more
If you go to a sports movie made by Disney, you know exactly what you’re getting into before you even step into the theater.
One or more players will struggle through impossible circumstances to display a surprising amount of talent in [insert sport here].
A coach or father figure will learn some kind of valuable life lesson by the end of the movie, and will become a better person without ever having been too terrible in the first place.
There will come a moment, either two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through the movie, where it looks like everything is lost. But everything, of course, is not lost. This is a Disney movie we’re talking about here, people.
“Million Dollar Arm,” the latest based-on-a-true-story movie from the Disney dream machine, fits the standard inspirational sports movie playbook to a T. The most surprising thing about it is that it seems to have actually hewn pretty closely to the true story, which involves a sports agent, a marketing stunt, and two kids from India who have surprisingly good pitching arms but have never even seen a baseball game.
The results are pleasant, even heartwarming. Jon Hamm is charming, sweet and jerk-like as necessary as J.B, the sports agent who comes up with the idea in order to save his failing agency. Hamm has been too caught up with the TV series “Mad Men” and indie movies for the average movie-goer to become too familiar with him, but this should serve as a decent introduction.
The boys from India are even more charming than Hamm’s character, played with just the right mixture of sweetness, youthful innocence and hope by Madhur Matell (who you might remember from “Slumdog Millionaire” and Suraj Sharma (who you should definitely remember from “Life of Pi.”) Their support for each other is subtle, believable and heartwarming, and it doesn’t take long before you want them both to succeed in all their dreams.
The rest of the cast is also good, with Lake Bell offering a refreshingly wry turn as the designated love interest and Alan Arkin doing an excellent job at once again being Alan Arkin. Pitobash, playing a baseball nut who works as a translator for the boys, bringing a sense of earnest dignity to a role that might have come nothing more than comic relief.
There are absolutely zero surprises in the script, but anyone going into an inspirational sports movie looking for surprises is destined for disappointment. Some might argue that the structure of the film cheats audiences out of the triumphant ending, but to my mind the immediate cut to the real-life people in the movie gives it more depth. We’re accustomed to happy endings in movies, but seeing one happen in real life is always a pleasant surprise.
At least, it is until you go home and try to find more details on Google. The trick to real life is all the stuff that comes after the happy ending, and the story is never as cookie-cutter perfect as it is in a Disney movie.