The best baseball movies communicate the mystical nature of the sport’s appeal. Even Moneyball, an analytic movie by default, has sequences that marvel at baseball’s seemingly supernatural hold on its fans. Many movies succumb to an earnest cheesiness that distracts from the reality of baseball’s mystique. This happens more often than not, and unfortunately Million Dollar Arm succumbs early and succumbs often.
Jon Hamm stars as
Jerry Maguire JB, a sports agent at the end of his rope. The last strand of said rope is his idea, inspired by a cricket game on TV, to find pitching prospects in the villages of India. He finds two (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal) and brings them to Los Angeles to work with USC pitching guru Tom House (Bill Paxton). There are the expected fish-out-of-water hijinks and JB has the typical jerk-to-husband-material arc. But just because these plot points are expected and typical doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. No, I enjoyed all the earnest cheese and wasn’t too concerned with the lack of originality.
What did concern me was that this is yet another movie about dark-skinned foreigners needing a white man’s help to achieve their goals (which, incidentally, in this case didn’t exist before the white man gave them those goals). I don’t necessarily blame the movie for this; the story on its own merits is fine (and also based on a true-life story), and I appreciate that Lake Bell, who plays JB’s tenant and love interest, has way more involvement in the story than just as a love interest. But I would prefer a movie in which the dark-skinned foreigners are written as more than just broad sketches with vague motivations and in which their trials don’t play like beats in a narrative with a foregone conclusion. But then I remember that movie has already been made, and it’s called Sugar. As far as sleek entertainment goes, Million Dollar Arm does just fine.