Million Dollar Arm Review
A sports agent at a professional crossroads takes a huge risk and somehow finds himself in an accidental yet satisfying romance in the process. An Indian television competition changes the lives of a pair of young men who come from very little. It's like Jerry Maguire and Slumdog Millionaire rolled into one. A lazy movie deserves a lazy comparison, and Million Dollar Arm ticks those boxes with a half-sharpened pencil.
Jon Hamm headlines his first studio film as JB Bernstein, a once-successful sports agent now struggling with his partner (played by Aasif Mandvi) to keep their agency afloat. By chance via an alcohol-hazed mash-up of Susan Boyle and cricket, Bernstein concocts the idea of a reality show in India where the winner receives a professional baseball tryout back in the U.S. Aside from the basic publicity aspect, the idea is to tap into the unrealized market of one of the world's largest nations. There's never been an Indian big leaguer and, using Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming as partial inspiration, the potential of having one could mean huge money.
Bernstein gets some financial backing and heads to India, joined by a frequently sleeping retired scout (Alan Arkin) and a very enthusiastic Indian baseball fan. When two contestants (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal of Slumdog) show flashes of ability on the competition show, Bernstein brings them back to California where he sets the pair up with noted pitching guru Tom House (Bill Paxton). The young men, Rinku and Dinesh, must attempt to train for a sport they know very little about while also adjusting to major cultural differences. Adding an element of romance is the medical student (Lake Bell) who rents Bernstein's bungalow and gets closer to him and his new house guests after the return from India.
Million Dollar Arm comes from the sports movie portion of the Disney factory. It's the most recent in a string of rah-rah inspirational true stories that's also included Remember the Titans, Miracle, and The Rookie. It was also, according to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, exceptionally well received at test screenings, implying a degree of audience enthusiasm that nonetheless seems difficult to understand upon actually watching the movie. There's not a great deal of hushed rooting for the underdog here. The victories are partial at best and the lack of an actual game, with its heat of the moment quality, is deadly. The opportunity for cathartic success is not as great as one might expect. It doesn't help, either, that the lead character is, by his own admission, a jerk for three-quarters of the picture.
Those interested in smaller types of movies might be intrigued to know that Million Dollar Arm comes to us from the writer of both The Station Agent and The Visitor and the director of Lars and the Real Girl. The promising duo of Tom McCarthy and Craig Gillespie show little of their indie roots, though, and generally fail to inject the film with the more intimate and modest dramatic qualities key to prior successes. What might have been the most intriguing angle - Rinku and Dinesh's incredible fish out of water adjustment - gets only minor attention in the second act, and part of that involves vomiting.
If Million Dollar Arm has its good qualities - and it does - they mostly arise from the easy drama, family-friendly nature of its two hours-plus running time. In short, Gillespie's movie is the kind people watch more than analyze. There's surprisingly little ambition at work and a dreadful amount of predictability, but some people gravitate toward that. That said, the film really didn't do too well at the box office. It had very modest grosses at home and hardly any activity abroad (typical of baseball movies). The picture comes out now for home viewers, timed to coincide with baseball's postseason, but the crazy thing to keep in mind is that it's actually not as baseball-oriented as one might think. It's really divided quite sharply into three acts - Bernstein's problems, his trip to India and his redemption. Unfortunately, Bernstein's not especially interesting or likable and that, more than anything else, is probably the film's most glaring weakness.
Million Dollar Arm comes to Blu-ray in the U.S. via Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The region-free disc is dual-layered and includes a code for a Digital HD Digital Copy.
Image quality is expectedly outstanding. Colors in high definition look great in the wide 2.39:1 frame. Detail and sharpness are entirely up to par. This is a new release and it easily meets the standards one expects for modern transfers.
Audio is available by default in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that registers clearly with clean, consistent emphasis on dialogue and musical cues. The frequent songs and other pieces from music supervisor A.R. Rahman are rendered well here. An English 2.0 Descriptive Video track is joined by dubs in French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digltal. There are optional subtitles available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.
Extra features fit well with the film in that they don't overwhelm the material but still provide some brief and appropriate bonuses to enjoy after seeing the movie. These include a "Training Camp" (6:18) featurette detailing the actors Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal trying to adjust, much as their characters did, to the physical aspects of baseball. Also here is "Their Story" (2:54), which is just the kind of extra you typically want to see after watching a true story in that it shows the real-life individuals whose lives have been recreated for the screen.
Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman is the subject of a "Million Dollar Music" (2:33) featurette. Also included are a collection of three Deleted Scenes (2:28), Outtakes (2:04) and an Alternate Ending (0:49).
Sneak Peeks include looks at the Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition Blu-ray and Maleficent.