J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) finds inspiration in the strangest places. The movie “Million Dollar Arm” would have us believe the down-on-his-luck sports agent channel surfed his way into an idea that would change his life and the lives of two Indian athletes.
Flipping between Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent and a cricket match on ESPN, he is struck by the idea to scout Indian cricket players who could be converted into big league baseball pitchers.
Luckily he didn’t come across “Mad Men,” or “Million Dollar Arm” might have ended up being called “Don Draper goes Bollywood.”
Based on a true story, Hamm plays Bernstein, the founder of 7 Figures Management, a small sports management agency whose clients are being stolen by a firm with deeper pockets.
As his business situation worsens he hits on the idea of recruiting Indian crickets players by way of a contest called the Million Dollar Arm. First and second place winners will receive cash and a chance for a tryout for a US team.
After spending three months in India he finds two promising players, Rinku (Suraj “Life of Pi” Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur “Slumdog Millionaire” Mittal), but back in the states Bernstein is told it’s not impossible that his new finds will become professional baseballers, “just highly improbable.”
“Million Dollar Arm” lays on the sentiment like a thick layer of lanoline on a new Rawlings Baseball Glove. It’s about underdogs and second chances, about finding the love of the game (and maybe some less metaphysical comforts as well). It’s about finding a balance between the business of the game versus the fun that should be inherent in the playing.
It is conventional in its approach, but hits a home run with the cast. Hamm’s gruff Don Draper-esque exterior will be familiar to “Mad Men” fans, but he has great chemistry with Lake Bell, who plays his tenant, spiritual guide and love interest.
Also appearing are Alan Arkin, who revisits his old coot routine to play baseball scout Ray Poievint, and Bill Paxton whoi is suitable stern as pitching coach Tom House.
Sharma and Mittal, who don’t speak any English until near the end of the film, wide-eyedly portray the inevitable culture clash of two young men leaving home for the first time.
Clichés aside, there is something appealingly old fashioned about how “Million Dollar Arm” wears its heart-on-its-sleeve.