PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

'Million Dollar Arm' Is a Million Dollar Idea With a Ten-Cent Film Plot

Million Dollar Arm is a film that picked the wrong protagonist.


Million Dollar Arm

Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash Tripathy, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell
Distributor: Disney Home Video
Rated: PG
Blu-ray: Million Dollar Arm
US Release Date: 2014-10-07

American baseball has tapped all the obvious places to find new talent, so it made sense in 2008 when sports agent J.B. Bernstein looked to India for a couple cricket players who could throw fastballs and who could be groomed as prospects. A consummate marketer, he wisely turned the idea into a reality TV contest with big cash prizes, and in the end he produced two guys whose baseball careers he hoped to launch.

That's the premise behind Disney's Million Dollar Arm, which is based on Bernstein's book of the same name. The film opens with Bernstein (Jon Hamm), who has been down on his luck since leaving his former agency and striking out on his own, trying to woo a star football player to his fold. He loses out to a larger, well-financed agency, prompting one of several scenes in which he commiserates with his business partner, Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi), over the fact that their fledgling endeavor is close to going under.

J.B. is your stereotypical sports agent with rugged good looks and the ability to flash his charisma when needed. He also has a penchant for dating women who could be models. He lives in an expensive house in L.A. and rents the backyard bungalow to a woman named Brenda who works in a local hospital. Ash says J.B. should take an interest in her, but J.B. says she's not his type. This doesn't stop him, of course, from becoming jealous when he meets her buff boyfriend. Cue the romantic sub-plot.

Ash also tries to get J.B. interested in his favorite sport, cricket, which leads to an epiphany one evening: Why not try to find a cricket bowler (or two) who can throw really hard and convert them into baseball pitchers? If he can find just one stellar prospect in a nation of one billion people, it would be a coup for his agency, and he can turn it into an Indian reality TV show that will result in even more publicity.

He sets the idea in motion with financing from hard-nosed investor Chang, who expects him to produce a viable prospect within a year. However, USC baseball pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), who has agreed to train the prospects brought back by J.B., doesn't see how it can be done in less than two years.

The first half of act two follows J.B. as he travels India with cranky baseball scout Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin) and Amit Rohan (Pitobash Tripathy), a huge baseball fan who offers to work for free. Ray is the only scout who was willing to work for J.B., and he spends much of his time sleeping, until he hears a fastball hit its target at speeds in excess of 80 MPH.

The rest of act two covers the finals of the Million Dollar Arm competition, out of which emerge Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal). They and Amit accompany J.B. back to the U.S., where they try to fit into the culture in addition to learning how to pitch.

You can probably guess how act three finishes in a resounding conclusion, for both J.B.'s prospects and his love life, which is a shame because Million Dollar Arm had the potential to be a much more interesting film, if only the focus was placed more on Rinku and Dinesh and less on J.B.'s Jerry McGuire-like struggles. We've seen the guy who puts his priorities on money over people many times in movies; I wanted to see more of Rinku and Dinesh as they tried to adapt to life in a foreign land, much in the way J.B. tries to adapt to Indian culture earlier in the film.

For example, there are a couple key moments for the Indian recruits that happen off-screen but which could have developed their story more. One involves them wandering away from a party and ending up in a neighbor's fountain. Another concerns a conflict with USC's baseball players. Both are mentioned rather than shown, which is a shame. It would have also been nice to see what happened to them after their try-outs for baseball scouts, when they entered the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league system and had to navigate American life without J.B. around.

Of course, this film is based on J.B.'s book, so I'm sure the focus from day one of development was on his story. It's just such a bland, paint-by-the-numbers tale; even his conflicts with the big shot sports agency and his investor, Chang, get resolved in neat and tidy ways without too much fuss.

This disc promises three deleted scenes and an alternate ending, but none of them would have changed the film's tone at all had they been included. In fact, the alternate ending is worse because at least the film's conclusion shows us the real life Rinku and Dinesh -- the alternate ending freezes on J.B. jumping into their arms (cue the uplifting music).

The rest of the extras on this Blu-ray are sparse: Training Camp runs six minutes and digs into Sharma and Mittal's efforts to learn how to pitch convincingly for the camera, while the three-minute Their Story talks a little bit about the real Rinku and Dinesh, who look a lot more like baseball prospects than the actors who portrayed them. There's also 2.5 minutes about the movie's music, along with two minutes of outtakes.

When you add all of that to the five minutes of deleted scenes and the alternate ending, you get close to 19 minutes of bonus material, which is a shame because this is a movie that could have easily called for a one-hour documentary digging into the real story behind these guys. In fact, that might have been more compelling than the movie.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.