'Million Dollar Arm' earns no decision

Matt Pais movie review: 'Million Dollar Arm'

'Million Dollar Arm'

'Million Dollar Arm' (May 9, 2014)

** (out of four)

Pleasant but not quite heartwarming, “Million Dollar Arm” is based on a true story that’s interesting in theory but not execution. This Disney attempt to put an international spin on “Moneyball” delivers only the basics in a plot that needs details.

So effortlessly likable that he isn’t fully convincing as a jerk, Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) stars as J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent who only dates models and radiates arrogance. (He’s more PG-rated Ari Gold than Jerry Maguire.) When he needs a financial boost fast, J.B. gets a jolt of inspiration while flipping channels between cricket and a Susan Boyle “Britain’s Got Talent” performance: a competition to find a young man in India (where cricket is hugely popular) with the best arm and turn him into a baseball player. The contracts, endorsements and worldwide attention are only a matter of time.

That’s the headline. Yet “Million Dollar Arm,” written by Thomas McCarthy (“Win Win”) and directed by Craig Gillespie (“Fright Night”), has action that hovers instead of rising. The time we should spend becoming emotionally invested in Indian players Rinku (Suraj Sharma of “Life of Pi”) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) frequently is wasted on fish-out-of-water business like the young men watching “The Hills.”

Fortunately, “Million Dollar Arm” also features the eminently cool Lake Bell, who adds dimension and character to J.B.’s love interest, and a predictably salty but amusing Alan Arkin stars as a veteran scout. The movie (with music from “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman) is a little fun, even if the effort to present Rinku, Dinesh and their translator/aspiring baseball coach Amit (Pitobash) as sweet, silly boys feels both simplistic and patronizing.

Also: Pitchers need more than a fastball, but “Million Dollar Arm” broadly covers the young pitchers’ development via montage. It adheres to a bland narrative of underdogs rising up and a guy who doesn’t care learning how. I miss the family-friendly sports movies of the early ‘90s, or even stuff like “Miracle” and “Invincible.” “Million Dollar Arm,” which would make a better documentary or ESPN “Outside the Lines” special, can’t hang with the pros.

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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