It would be easy to call Craig Gillespie’s Million Dollar Arm manipulative. But I’m not sure that’s accurate, since to be truly manipulative, you can’t be wholly predictable — something that plagues Gillespie’s (Lars and the Real Girl) film from its opening scenes. This can partly be blamed on the film’s based-on-a-true-story, uplifting-sports-movie format, in which two Indian athletes named Rinku and Dinesh (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal) are brought to America in a harebrained scheme to become baseball pitchers. Neither of these young men have ever played baseball, but both want to succeed — partly for their own pride and partly to help their impoverished families. It’s a pretty easy guess where this is going.
But Million Dollar Arm is only tangentially about these two. The film focuses mostly on JB (Jon Hamm), a failed sports agent clawing for one last chance at success. His desperation leads him to concoct the idea of finding baseball talent in the untapped lands of India, but it’s obvious from the onset that JB is little more than a type. He is a selfish, narrow-minded workaholic. He’s also a playboy who refuses to commit to a relationship and shuns the woman (Lake Bell) who rents out his guest house because she’s not a model. Don’t think too hard about where his character — and where every other character, for that matter — ends up.
Something this wholly uninspired might (and this is a huge might) work if JB had a lick of likability to him. But, as I mentioned before, he is selfish, as well as hard-headed and a bit ignorant. Most of the film’s humor is derived from JB’s culture shock after arriving in India and being around Rinku, Dinesh and the goofy Amit (Pitobash) — who provides the stock comic relief — an aspect of the film that’s both lazy and close to being offensive. (The more serious aspects of Rinku and Dinesh’s eventual American culture shock work better, but was handled more honestly and firmly in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Sugar (2008).) You can also add greedy to the mix, since JB’s drive to succeed appears to be tied to his desire to keep his Porsche and his great big house in LA with a swimming pool. That the Porsche gets sold halfway through the movie is immaterial, since JB remains an unrepentant numbskull.
As you may have figured out by now, JB ends up learning that there’s more to life than money and work, and Rinku and Dinesh finally succeed. That Sharma and Mittal have a genuine charm about them and manage to make the film’s climax vaguely touching is about all that Million Dollar Arm can get truly right. The rest is totally forgettable. Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content.