Million Dollar Arm fails on so many levels, despite trying to be another in the tradition of family sports movies like Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, or We Are Marshall. The genre is a large one, and it seems every year, Hollywood spits out another few (or several) attempting to best the one previous. Sometimes they are good, like those three aforementioned, but sometimes they are imitations, trying to squeeze incorrect actors into ill-fitting roles, and sloppily writing over lazy cinematography (this film looked cheap).
There is no question that Jon Hamm is a good actor. In the role he was born to play, Don Draper on Mad Men, Hamm brings a collected, cool, conniving, cutthroat sneer that rivals performances of greats like Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, or Tom Hanks. In comedy, Hamm has also stretched his funny bone, such as when he's a cad in Bridesmaids, a goofy boyfriend on 30 Rock, or when he is hosting Saturday Night Live.
But a lovable, romanticized sports agent-turned-family-man is something Hamm simply does not play well in Million Dollar Arm. He is altogether too stiff, and his harshness comes off as overly unlikable and non-conformist to the overall Disney-fied realm in which the movie (for better or worse) resides. By the end, you can't imagine why anyone would choose to surround themselves with his character's company, and regret the fact that you've voluntarily forced yourself into it for 124 minutes. In the brief scenes (a very elderly looking) Bill Paxton is present, you're left wishing it was he rather than Hamm who was playing the story's protagonist. But no such luck.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, the story is that of an agent, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm), who is down on his luck, as he's losing clients and cannot seem to obtain the big ticket ones that will keep him and his business partner Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi, who, as hilarious as he is on The Daily Show, doesn't add much humor or spark to this tedious script) afloat.
The grand business plan comes when they decide to go to India, the world's untapped baseball resource, and find good players through running a game show where men from around the country can try and throw a fast and accurate enough pitch to play for the major leagues back in America. The process is rightfully winnowed down to showing only small parts of the game show's filming around India, however, in so doing, some of the clarity of plot is lost, and audiences are left feeling that they can't really remember at what point along the journey they are left between scenes. A sleepy man named Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin) shows up amidst the tryouts, one can only assume for some comic relief, because how hilarious is it to watch an old man continually fall asleep then wake up suddenly to give his expert opinion? As it turns out, not very.
Eventually the contest is narrowed to two winners: Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal). Together they journey to the U.S.A. with JB and a translator he hires in India named Amit (Pitobash, who actually provides real comic relief to the film; due to that as well as a grand scene he is given at one point near the end, Pitobash could really be seen as the film's MVP, leaving viewers quite pleased with his performance and presence in the otherwise lackluster story). Rinku and Dinesh are interesting in their own right, but they are never really given time to shine or be developed as fully human characters, since the screenwriters chose to insert a wishy-washy love story between JB and Brenda (Lake Bell, a fine actress, but again, suffering from poor writing herein), his tenant on the rental property behind his house. Had the writers chosen to omit this entirely unnecessary side plot and focus more on the meat of the story, i.e. its Indian characters, then the film would have been much better off for it. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and audiences are stuck watching Hamm fumbling through staid, insincere attempts at falling in love onscreen. It's painful.
Overall, the movie is not what family friendly sports fare should be, and if you're looking for such a thing, journey back through the many, many similar films that have gone before it. Or if you just want a good story about a sports agent, see the far superior flick Jerry Maguire; Tom Cruise should have an Oscar for that role.