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Charming 'Million Dollar Arm' uses baseball to build bridges

Published: Friday, May 16 2014 11:12 p.m. MDT

Jon Hamm stars as sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures Million Dollar Arm. (Ishika Mohan, Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.) Jon Hamm stars as sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures Million Dollar Arm. (Ishika Mohan, Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Major League Baseball may have performance-enhancing drug scandals, but as long as Hollywood stays in business, America’s pastime will be just fine.

Million Dollar Arm” won’t knock “The Natural” or “Field of Dreams” off the top of anyone’s all-time favorite baseball movies list, but it’s a family-friendly picture with a big heart.

Based on a true story, “Million Dollar Arm” follows the adventures of Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), a pair of hardball prospects from India, as they use the sport to bridge two different cultures.

Desperate to make it as a big league agent and running out of local options, J.B. (Jon Hamm) puts together a pitching competition in India in the hopes that turning a few lifetime cricket bowlers into fastball pitchers will convert a billion Indians into Major League Baseball fans. His competition — dubbed “Million Dollar Arm,” and supervised by a one-foot-in-the-grave scout named Ray (Alan Arkin) — yields Rinku and Dinesh.

Jon Hamm stars as sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures Million Dollar Arm, the true story of two young men who went from never throwing a baseball to being given a shot in Major League Baseball. (Ron Phillips, Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.) Jon Hamm stars as sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures Million Dollar Arm, the true story of two young men who went from never throwing a baseball to being given a shot in Major League Baseball. (Ron Phillips, Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

There are plenty of fish in this story, and they all get to take a turn out of water. Early on, J.B. navigates the charming and foreign Indian culture as his financiers breathe down his neck. Once the action shifts to the U.S., Rinku and Dinesh get the same treatment, along with Amit (Pitobash), a diehard baseball fan with coaching aspirations who joins the effort along the way.

Lurking in the background is Popo (Rey Maualuga), the prized NFL linebacker J.B. is hoping to sign, and Brenda (Lake Bell), the medical student living in J.B.’s guest house who has suddenly caught his attention. The ultimate destination is a genuine MLB tryout for Rinku and Dinesh, provided the train can stay on the rails until the big day.

It’s a compelling picture, not because the plot takes any dramatic turns, but rather because watching Rinku and Dinesh conveys a sense of purity and innocence that the daily headlines often lack when readers make it to the sports page. The scenes of the boys’ home life in India drive that feeling home, and at times viewers may wonder if exposing them to all American culture has to offer might do more harm than good.

Jon Hamm stars as sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures Million Dollar Arm, the true story of two young men who went from never throwing a baseball to being given a shot in Major League Baseball. (Ron Phillips, Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.) Jon Hamm stars as sports agent J.B. Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures Million Dollar Arm, the true story of two young men who went from never throwing a baseball to being given a shot in Major League Baseball. (Ron Phillips, Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Hamm strikes a fine balance between the good man J.B. is trying to be and the jerk he is trying to overcome. Arkin is Arkin, even if his role is comparatively small, as is Bill Paxton as Tom House, the coach tasked with getting Rinku and Dinesh ready for their tryout.

Viewers won’t be all that surprised by the big moments in “Million Dollar Arm,” but they will be charmed by its small moments (be on the lookout for Amit’s coaching debut). And even though its 123-minute running time might put some children to sleep, it’s a film the entire family can enjoy.

“Million Dollar Arm” is rated PG for some mild language and sensuality.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.

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