Million Dollar Arm formulaic but well-made

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Starring Jon Hamm and Lake Bell. Rated G.

As a business parable and romance depicting the physical and spiritual redemption of a sports agent, Million Dollar Arm invites close comparison with Jerry Maguire. It too is the saga of a flashy, superficial guy who suffers a business crisis but finds love. And, bonus, it’s “based on a true story.”

JB Bernstein is an American sports agent who sets up a reality show in India called Million Dollar Arm, a challenge designed to find baseball pitchers. By introducing the sport to a new market and recruiting talent for development into major-league ballplayers, Bernstein stands to reap the gains in income and stature.

As a movie character, Bernstein is understandably somewhat idealized. He’s played by an engagingly rumpled Jon Hamm as an American hedonist type who, deep down, just needs to learn to love. (Cue peppy ethnic music by A. R. Rahman.) Will he return from India a changed man, now able to appreciate the beauty in life, and particularly in his comely tenant, Brenda (Lake Bell)? There’s even Alan Arkin as an Alan Arkin type, a crusty old-timer he could and does play with his eyes closed.

Yes, it fits a formula, but it’s a well-made example of its kind. The journeys of show victors Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel from village youths to Major League Baseball prospects are respected, even glorified. Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire) and Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) are given a few good scenes together and escape being merely cute and grateful. The cinematography by Gyula Pados is lovely, particularly in the India-set middle section. It’s at those times that the movie seems to be more interested in the feats of intrepid young men chosen in a dramatic public exhibition of skill than in a rich businessman’s embrace of profit and monogamy.

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Ron Y
So, this is about as close as I allow myself to come to being the kind of critic that scolds the filmmaker for making the film wrongly. I try to take these things on their own terms. But when the Rinku and Dinesh stories are RIGHT THERE and they show us the rich guy's difficulty not being a jerkwad to people for, like, the 30th time, it's tough...
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