Million Dollar Arm is a film that picked the wrong protagonist.
Million Dollar ArmDirector: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash Tripathy, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell
Distributor: Disney Home Video
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.