“I’ll let the product speak for itself” declares actor Madhur Mitthal enthusiastically when introducing the screening of Disney’s crossover offering Million Dollar Arm at the London Indian Film Festival. And that is precisely what Million Dollar Arm is – a product, neatly wrapped in cellophane, slotting obediently into an awkward space between mainstream Hollywood and what Hollywood thinks will sell to its own domestic market as well as to a primarily Indian audience.
Based on a true story, US sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) travels to India to find a cricket player to turn into a major sports star and secure his own business/career in the process. Of course, the process is not as simple as JB thinks and as he brings his two finds back to LA, he finds his life changes in an unexpected but Hollywood kind of pleasing way.
There are some fun moments in Million Dollar Arm – throwaway lines (bribing in India is described as “bypassing the system“), small set pieces which wryly observe culture clashes (when the boys tease JB about his walk of shame the night before) and of course every scene the wonderful Alan Arkin is in as a retired and grumpy talent scout. The cast also share a nice chemistry which the script doesn’t necessarily cater for and it almost feels like these moments take everyone by surprise (in a good way) before reverting back to auto pilot as the film veers towards its inevitable destination.
But overall, Million Dollar Arm feels clinical and felt like any other sports film where the underdog comes out on top against all the odds, only this time, the twist is the Indian influence is conveniently moulded from inspirational to comical to alien to familiar as per the needs of the story. This is a shame as if the script had gotten its hands dirty or dared to explore the more uncomfortable questions it manages to avoid, it may have been closer to that pan market hit it seems determined to be.
Thankfully, the cast are all rather good – Madhur Mitthal and Suraj Sharma portray Dinesh and Rinku’s journey well from overwhelmed young boys to finding themselves as sportsmen. Pitobash gives a good account of himself as Amit as does Lake Bell whose Brenda is like a breath of fresh air each time she appears on screen. Jon Hamm makes for a suitably rugged lead with a charm and ease that endears the audience towards him.
Whilst Million Dollar Arm does not really push the so called “crossover” canon forward in any way, the fact that it has some likeable and truthful moments shows the potential that this film has and if it had been allowed to find a space of its own, it may well have reached a wider audience that it seems to be aiming for. For now though, Million Dollar Arm entertains but ultimately does not fulfill. This is a Eat, Pitch, Love for a family audience.
Million Dollar Arm is on general release in the UK from 29th August 2014.
Million Dollar Arm
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mitthal, Lake Bell, Pitobash
Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.
Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2