Million Dollar Arm: Wham, bam, thank you, Hamm 

Straight Down the Middle

Straight Down the Middle

Jon Hamm's neverending supply of charisma flows like fine Beaujolais all over Million Dollar Arm, the latest fact-based, Disney-distributed movie that shows how sports can bring people together, teach you the true meaning of love, keep you from being a dick, etc. The man who will no longer be Don Draper for much longer stars as J.B. Bernstein, a once successful sports agent looking for the next big thing to keep his company from going under. While flipping TV channels between an Indian cricket match and the star-making clip of Susan Boyle singing on Britain's Got Talent, he gets the idea to scour India for the next great American baseball pitcher.

After holding an exhaustive reality-show contest, which has him traveling to India and bouncing from village to village holding tryouts, he finds two unlikely candidates (Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal and Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma). Of course, wacky culture-clashing ensues once Bernstein takes them out of their home and brings them to Los Angeles to train, in the process becoming their unlikely caretaker.  

It doesn't take long for Hamm's forever-on-the-go playboy to put the hustling and model-smashing on pause and appreciate the simple things in life, thanks to his international guests. After all, this is a Disney movie, and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) follows the inspirational-sports-movie template to the sweater letter, maintaining an earnest, inoffensive tone (though I do wonder how Indian audiences are gonna take seeing their homeland portrayed as an adorably corrupt Quirkistan). The movie keeps the racial ugliness that might surface once these boys hit American soil to a minimum — e.g., there's a mention of one of the boys getting called a name by somebody, but we never find out what that slur might be.

Million Dollar Arm certainly found the right screenwriter in Tom McCarthy, who previously tackled cross-cultural relations (The Visitor) and underdog sports prodigies (Win Win) in his middle-brow independent films. Given that McCarthy has more experience with this than Gillespie, who last directed that dim-grim Fright Night remake, why the hell didn't he direct this? 

The movie surrounds Hamm with some welcome supporting players, including Bill Paxton as a Zen-like pitching coach, Lake Bell as Bernstein's no-nonsense love interest and Alan Arkin, working his patented curmudgeonly mojo as a veteran scout. But even if they were replaced by nobodies, Hamm has the innate charm to still make this an OK movie. As a guy who plays one of the most bastardly TV protagonists in history, he knows how to find the redeeming qualities (and innate charm) even in career-driven assholes.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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