Sort of like Slumdog Millionaire-lite, this Disney film also puts young Indian boys in the heat of competition, but while Slumdog involved a game show, Million Dollar Arm places them on the pitcher’s mound in a mad race to get drafted for Major League American Baseball. In yet another film sporting the ‘based on a true story’ angle, Jon Hamm (looking only slightly bedraggled, but still pretty hawtt) plays JB Bernstein, a struggling sports agent who cooks up the wild ‘n crazy idea to recruit and train Indian cricket players into MLB rookies in a national contest.
The toughest sell here, naturally, is the ‘struggling sports agent’ part. This story would have best been served if it were told from the perspective of the boys themselves, young and impressionable first-timers in America—it’s curious why they were not selected to be the main characters. One of them is played by Suraj Sharma, the sensitive lead actor from Life of Pi. As it is, the film has its work cut out for it, with several ‘poor agent!’ moments that don’t quite gel with the fact that a. it’s Jon Hamm and he’s gorgeous, b. he has a phenomenal house and car, and c. he sleeps with a different model every night. As we all fondly remember, the skill of a talented writer/director is needed to make us care about a sports agent—someone like Cameron Crowe, whose Jerry Maguire remains at the top of his best work.
Nonetheless, Million Dollar Arm carries along well enough, with some nice character development (even if it is a long time coming – we are so excited for the lesson to be learned here, and it finally happens almost too late). Cultural divides are felt, the fear of defeat is dangled menacingly, but nothing happens that a nice montage can’t fix, as the boys slowly gain confidence and find their new home in America.