I understand why a studio makes a movie like Million Dollar Arm. It’s the same reason grocery stores sell vanilla ice cream: Some people just want the most unadorned, unremarkable version of a thing. And Million Dollar Arm is as vanilla as it gets.
The 400 Word Review: Million Dollar Arm
By Sean Collier
May 19, 2014
It’s the mostly-true story of two Indian athletes, Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal), who won a publicity-stunt-by-way-of-reality-show for a chance at a Major League Baseball contract. The original show and contest, also called “Million Dollar Arm,” was dreamed up by sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) for the express purpose of bringing Indian pitchers to American baseball, hopefully extending the game’s global reach.
The fictionalized version, directed by Lars and the Real Girl helmer Craig Gillespie and written by actor/writer/director Thomas McCarthy, presents their ordeal as an utterly unchallenging series of obstacles. Bernstein arrives in Indiana to find that none of his supplies are there; he goes to find the supplies. The early tryouts yield no viable pitchers; the later tryouts do. Rinku and Dinesh are nervous about leaving India; they get over it.
That structure carries from the first scene to the last, with a surprising lack of complexity or even development amongst the characters. The focal point, despite all logic, is actually Bernstein; he struggles with finances, he gets a romantic interest (Lake Bell), he learns about patience and the errors of his bachelor ways. Rinku and Dinesh, who really should be the protagonists of their own story — don’t consider the sociology of that decision; it’s too depressing — learn rather than change, leaving the hero’s journey to the American guy.
That bit of business aside, it’s not an unpleasant film to watch. Sharma and Mittal are easy, likable presences onscreen, and the visual impact of their journey from destitute rural villages to a Los Angeles bungalow is captured beautifully. Bell, particularly, brings much more depth and impact to her character than appeared in the script; her work with a role like this promises great things when she’s given more to sink her teeth into.
There’s something to be said, too, for a movie so run-of-the-mill that you could probably show up half an hour late and not miss a thing. We need these sort of mindless, happy-ending diversions every now and then. That’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s all that Million Dollar Arm earns.
My Rating: 6/10
CriticsChoice.com Score: 74/100
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark