[Screen It]


(2014) (Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma) (PG)

Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

Drama: A down-on-his-luck sports agent travels to India in hopes of finding two cricket players that he can turn into Major League baseball pitchers who he'll then represent.
J.B. Bernstein (JON HAMM) and his business partner Ash (AASIF MANDVI) once represented some of the biggest sports stars in the U.S. But after striking out on their own with their company, Seven Figures Management, things haven't been as rosy or lucrative. In fact, their endeavor is running out of money, a predicament exacerbated by losing a top potential football client to a rival firm.

Desperate, J.B. concocts the idea to hold tryouts across India to find cricket bowlers who they might be able to turn into Major League baseball pitchers. With financial backing by businessman Will Chang (TZI MA) who sees a potential lucrative market in India, J.B. heads to that country with the less than enthused veteran scout, Ray (ALAN ARKIN), to travel across the vast lands to find prospects.

With Vivek (DARSHAN JARIWALA) helping run the temporary office in Mumbai, and with local baseball enthusiast Emit (PITOBASH) offering to assist for free, J.B. and his ragtag crew start holding tryouts across the country, with the winner guaranteed $100,000 with the chance of getting $1 million if they're signed with a Major League baseball team.

The two top winners are Rinku Singh (SURAJ SHARMA) and Dinesh Patel (MADHUR MITTAL) who are then flown to the U.S. where they end up living with J.B., much to the amusement of his doctor tenant, Brenda (LAKE BELL). With the aid of USC pitching coach Tom House (BILL PAXTON), J.B. has less than a year to get them ready for their big tryout, a proposition few believe will be successful.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Due to their amazing physical feats on the field, court and other playing venues, many people believe that professional sports stars are athletes who could easily excel in sports other than their chosen one. While some have succeeded at that, it's much harder than it appears, usually due to different skill sets and needs from one sport to another. Just ask Michael Jordan about his attempt to transition from basketball to baseball.

Back in 2008, J. B. Bernstein attempted something even more difficult. He wasn't an athlete attempting to make such a move. Instead, he was a sports agent who previously worked with the likes of Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and Barry Bonds in making deals with well-known international brands and other licensing products.

By then running his own company, he created the Million Dollar Arm contest where the intent was to find cricket players in India, test them to see who could pitch baseballs (foreign to many of them) the fastest and most accurately, and turn them into Major League baseball players back in the U.S. It was a tall order and that tale now comes to the big screen in "Million Dollar Arm."

This is pretty much your standard sports drama -- if something of a mix of "Jerry Maguire" and parts of "Slumdog Millionaire" -- with nary a surprise in sight in terms of how things will play out and how the protagonist will evolve. But that's okay as long as the story and its characters still manage to be engaging, and this film manages to pull that off.

I'm not how many -- if any -- artistic liberties screenwriter Tom McCarthy ("Win Win," "The Station Agent") or director Craig Gillespie ("Fright Night," "Lars and the Real Girl") may have taken with the true story. Whatever that case might be, this is an enjoyable, charming and entertaining offering that might slightly overstay its welcome by 10 to 15 minutes and perhaps features a few too many montages, but nonetheless leaves a pleasant after-experience once the last pitch is thrown and everything is wrapped up.

In the lead role we have Jon Hamm who easily segues away from his more familiar (and most famous) work in TV's "Mad Men." While the deeper and darker elements of Don Draper thankfully have been shorn (and it takes a few beats to accept the actor as someone else), this character still arrives with warts and all. To his credit, Hamm again effortlessly makes us care about his onscreen persona despite him obviously not being the most likeable fellow around.

He gets his chance to change when he interacts with various Indian characters (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal terrifically embody the would-be ball players, and Pitobash amusingly plays a baseball enthusiast who tags along and documents their journey) as well as his business partner (Aasif Mandvi), tenant at home (Lake Bell winningly doing her bit), a baseball coach (Bill Paxton) and a cranky but wise baseball scout (the always welcome Alan Arkin).

The chemistry among the various performers during their various interactions is solid from start to finish, and the filmmakers nicely imbue the film with enough humor, charm and warmth that it all goes down quite easily. It might not be a cinematic grand slam that would get spectators jumping up and down in delight, but it's clearly an outing that most everyone can immensely enjoy. "Million Dollar Arm" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 13, 2014 / Posted May 16, 2014

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