Two young men are plucked from their small Indian village to become major league baseball players in Disney's newest feel good film Million Dollar Arm.
Jon Hamm stars as JB Bernstein, a not-very-successful sports agent who needs to find a way to make money to save his company and his career. JB and his right hand man Aash (Aasif Mandvi) are not having any luck in signing NFL player Popo Vanauta, so JB, while watching Britain's Got Talent at home (with Susan Boyle singing for Simon Cowell) has a lightbulb idea: find a young cricketer with a fast arm and turn him into a baseball star. JB and Aash hear about a very rich Asian businessman, Chang (Tzi Ma), who's looking to invest in Asian-based athletes. So JB pitches their idea to him, a contest to be called Million Dollar Arm. Chang gives them one year, and money, to pull it off. So JB puts his Los Angeles bachelor life on hold (including liaisons with models) and leaves his house (and washing machine) in the care of Brenda (Lake Bell), a doctor who lives in his backyard.
JB then heads to India, where he starts to assemble a team to help him with the contest. He can't say no to Amit Rohan (a very good Pitobash Tripathy), a baseball fanatic who practically begs JB to help him. Fliers are made announcing the contest, and it becomes very big news in India. Young boys pass fliers from village to village, and young men from different backgrounds show an interest in the contest. The nation is excited about the prospect of one of their own being picked to be a major league baseball player.
JB enlists the help of baseball scout Ray (Alan Arkin), one of the best in the business. Two young men in particular take part in the contest — Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), who wants to stay loyal to his father by taking over the family's trucking business, yet sees the contest as a great opportunity; and Rinku (Suraj Sharma) — who has one of the fastest pitches JB has ever seen. So with contests taking place in various cities in India, it's both Dinesh and Rinku who wind up being the dual winners, winning cash prizes and a once-in-a-lifetime and life changing opportunity — to go to America to prepare to become major league baseball players.
The young men have never left their rural villages, so upon arriving in America, everything is foreign to them, including the escalators, modern technology and food (pizza!). Amit comes along as a sort of chaperone to the men and as an assistant to JB. They live with JB, where they set up a praying temple in one of his bedrooms. They also prepare an Indian meal in the backyard for him and Brenda, realizing that there is a spark between the two.
Having never played baseball before, both Dinesh and Rinku initially struggle to play the game. Sure, they can pitch fast, but there's more to baseball than pitching. They need to pitch straight into the pitchers glove with the goal of striking out the players. It takes several weeks for the young men to learn the game, and once they do, JB trotts them out to the scouts of some of the major league teams (with the press in full attendance as well). But the boys disappoint; their pitching is all over the place, and not as fast as they need to be. So JB, with the help of Pitobash's enthusiasm and rousing speech to the two young men, holds another exhibition, and this time Dinesh and Rinku impress all in attendance, and are signed to a major league baseball team.
Million Dollar Arms works on all levels. It's a feel good movie where you are routing for the underdogs, and the underdogs prevail. Of course, this being a Disney film, that will happen. But what makes this movie stand out over others is not just the great acting, the warmth of the Indian people, and the inspirational tone of the film, it's that Million Dollar Arm is based on a true story.
In 2007, entrepreneurial sports agent JB Bernstein staged a reality show in India to find promising baseball talent amongst the cricket-loving population. In a country of 1.3 billion people, the likelihood of him being successful was very high. Ultimately, Berstein found two ball players — Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. They not only became an investment, it turned into a real family relationship, just as in the film. Both men were eventually signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jon Hamm is perfect as a sports agent (he would have done better in Tom Cruise's role in Jerry Macguire). Hamm even has the look of a sport agent — he is easily pictured driving a sportscar — along with his combination of frustration, emotion, comedy and sympathy, especially as he gets to know the young men he's taken under his wing. There is a real emotional bond on camera, and we can assume off camera as well.
The roles of Rinku and Dinesh appear to have been an easy choice. As Rinku, Sharma brings a sense of vulnerability to the role. Sharma was just incredible in 2012's Life of Pi, and in Million Dollar Arm he's just as good. Mittal was brought in to play Dinesh, who is famous for playing Salim in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. Mittal has practically grown up in front of the camera, and it's good to see that he's still excelling at acting. Alan Arkin as seasoned scout Ray is the one character in the film poorly portrayed. While Arkin is an Oscar-winning actor who has appeared in many acclaimed films in his career, his Ray character is a bore. He spends most of his time sleeping at the baseball contests, waiting until he 'hears' a fast ball. It ridiculous to think that a man as successful as Ray would sleep on the job.
But the most memorable character is Amit Rohan (Pitobash Tripathy). He steals every scene he's in. At just 5'4", he's got lots energy, stamina, drive and confidence. Tripathy's character brings the film funny and lighthearted moments, especially in his excitedness as JB tells him he's going back to America with him. While there are times when the filmmakers take stereotypical shots at the Indians and their culture, what makes the movie is exactly that: the Indian culture — the vibrancy, look, feel, sounds, the organized chaos, the beautiful colors and the beautiful people — it's all there to see on the big screen.
Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Tom McCarthy bring a true story to a vibrant life on the screen, and while they bring dramatic license to the true events that really took place, Million Dollar Arm is the perfect film with which to end the summer.