Title: Million Dollar Arm
Director: Craig Gillespie
Major Players: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin
Out Of Five: 3
Sometimes you can damn a film with faint praise. Middle of the road words like “nice” and “pleasant” aren’t exactly negative, but they’re tinged with a telling, rather weary shrug. Like you’ve seen it all before.
Which is a pretty good way of summing up Disney’s latest piece of family fodder, Million Dollar Arm. True, it has the added appeal of being Jon Hamm’s first post-Mad Men feature film and there’s the familiarity of its Indian setting and Britain’s Got Talent style competition to find a new baseball pitcher. But in all honesty it really isn’t anything more than pleasant. That word again.
Sports agent J B (Hamm) is on his uppers. His business is about to go under and he needs to find a way out. He comes up with the idea of searching for a new baseball pitcher but going abroad to find him. His choice is cricket-mad India, where they’re likely to have the throwing skills, but he also decides to stage a Britain’s Got Talent style contest, with the two winners being given the chance to try out for Major League Baseball teams. And his backer gives him just one year to deliver.
So we’re on familiar territory – Slumdog meets Disney, in fact, even though the Oscar winner is some six years old. And it’s not just familiar: it’s also standard Disney territory, with the Mouse House sticking to its tried and tested family film formula. Which means it’s all about battling against the odds, believing in yourself and coming out on top. Even the presence of modern-day technology like Skype and mobile phones can’t prevent this from being a very traditional Disney movie. They’ve even cleaned up cinema’s favourite foul-mouthed old man, Alan Arkin, who is still grouchy but who never utters anything close to a profanity.
Warm hearted but borderline formulaic and more than a little predictable, the only semblance of something different is its Indian setting, but even that appears to be more of a commercial decision to take the company into new markets. The slums are only seen from a distance and the reality of the country is rather glossed over, apart from the obvious references to bureaucracy. The Indian characters are just too stereotypical, especially Amit (Pitobash), J B’s right hand man who comes across as a direct descendant of Billy Fish in John Huston’s Man Who Would Be King (1975) – fast-talking, over-eager to please and often getting it wrong.
The film marks an interesting change in direction for Jon Hamm after Mad Men. Gone are the slick Madison Avenue suits and his charm is used to great effect: without it the film would be rather flat. Lake Bell plays the medical student who’s also his tenant and they make an appealing couple, although it’s glaringly obvious right from the very start that romance is brewing, regardless of his professed preference for glamorous models.
Million Dollar Arm is nicely made and an easy watch for families. But ultimately it gets a middle of the road rating for a middle of the road film.
Million Dollar Arm goes on general release on Friday, 29 August.