MillionDollarArmcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2014, 124 min., Color
Disney
Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD Copy
Bonus features: C-
Trailer

My family liked Million Dollar Arm as much as any Disney sports movie. It has a Jerry Maguire structure, a Bollywood vibe, a likable cast, laugh-out-loud moments, and a lead actor who shows us the vulnerable flip side of his Mad Men character.

Million Dollar Arm is the eighth based-on-a-real-story sports film that Disney has made this millennium, following in the footsteps (or hoof tracks) of Secretariat (2010), Invincible (2006), Glory Road (2006), Miracle (2004), The Rookie (2002), Snow Dogs (2002), and Remember the Titans (2000). And it’s a worthy successor to those films.

Jon Hamm is cast against type as sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who quit his job at a large agency to form a partnership with Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi). But they’re running out of time and the future of their struggling, fledgling business, as in Jerry Maguire, seems to rest with one player. In this case it’s an NFL star named Popo (Rey Maualuga) whom Bernstein is wooing, big-time.

But at the same time, to buy time with an impatient investor named Chang (Tzi Ma), they come up with the gimmick of having a contest in India to find the two best, hardest throwing cricket players to bring to America and convert into baseball pitchers.

That really happened to Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who appeared on a 2008 reality TV show called Million Dollar Arm and became the first Indians to play baseball in America. Only Patel made it to the majors, though, and he only lasted a short while. None of that makes it into the film. Million Dollar Arm is all about the relationship that forms between the agent and his prospects. 

MillionDollarArmscreenHere, the reality show concept is compressed so that it’s a road-show kind of tryout, with Bernstein and a crotchety old retired scout named Ray (Alan Arkin, who nails this performance as much as he did in Argo) on the radar guns. Helping them for free is India’s only cricket hater, a baseball enthusiast named Amit Rohan (Pitobash Tripathy), and a guide named Vivek (Darshan Jariwala). Helping the film is a lively Bollywood-style score and some on-location filming that captures the frenetic flavor of India.

As in Jerry Maguire, the focus is less on sports or even on the athletes than it is on people. In terms of character arcs, the individual who travels the greatest distance is Bernstein. It’s his tale of ambition and redemption, his changing attitudes about India and his Indian “winners” that form the emotional core of the film, and Hamm does a great job portraying an essentially nice guy who lost his way for a spell.

Even if you don’t know the outcome of the story, Million Dollar Arm is structured so that the narrative drama still outmuscles the gentle comedy that the screenplay musters. It’s drama first, comedy second. But there are plenty of funny moments, whether it’s the result of culture shock or character comedy, as we get from Ray—whose running gags include sleeping all the time (is he alive?) and never bothering to look at the pitchers because he can tell how fast they’re pitching just by the sound.

Best of all, Disney went PG with this title, so the whole family can watch. There’s only “mild language and some suggestive content,” but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what that was. It seemed like all Disney to me.

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