As far as inspirational sports movies go, Hollywood is trying a new pitch altogether - India and its love for cricket - and tying it up with what they know, baseball. Based on a real-life story of sports agent JB Bernstein, it has Mad Men's Jon Hamm playing the lead.
"Jerry Maguire Goes to India or Slumdog Fireballer must have been the high-concept pitch for baseball drama Million Dollar Arm, but the highly enjoyable result isn't nearly as opportunistic as it sounds - even if it is, in part, a portrait of a shameless opportunist... this sharp, slickly produced addition to the Disney sports movie canon works as both a stirring underdog tale and as a revealing look at the expanding global footprint of the American sports-entertainment machine," writes Scott Foundas of Variety.
Bernstein is clearly feeling the pressure of running his own agency. Watching late night TV, he has a Eureka moment - why not look for a Major League Baseball pitcher from cricket's bastion, India?
Off he goes and combs India along with baseball scout (Alan Arkin) and an Indian translator (Pitobash, engaging). The winners are two lads Rinku (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Sulmdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal) who by the way know nothing about cricket and even less about baseball -- a fact Bernstein realises after he lands in America.
USC coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) is responsible for training the duo. However, the film is as much about the training as alienation and loneliness the duo feels in a foreign land.
So, does the film manage to make India and Indians (as is the wont of Hollywood) clichés? Foundas writes, "The India scenes give Million Dollar Arm a hearty dose of visual and narrative energy. As far as the film's saturated colour palette is concerned, as well as its jubilant wall-to-wall song score by Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, Gillespie certainly takes his cues from Slumdog director Danny Boyle. The country itself is depicted in largely the same chaotic, exoticised terms that have become de rigueur in Western-made movies: endless snarls of traffic, stomach-upsetting cuisine, poor sanitary conditions, and those unflappable locals who throw their hands in the air and say things like, "Here in India, we do things a little differently. But even at its broadest, the movie is careful to afford its Indian characters a certain fundamental dignity - and, in another intelligent move, allows them to deliver much of their dialogue in their native Hindi."
Great performances and deft direction makes the film an interesting watch. "Credit a rock solid turn by lead Jon Hamm that doesn't shy away from revealing a darker underbelly to his underdog character, as well as a keenly-observed script by Tom McCarthy and deft direction by Craig Gillespie for the rewarding changeup," says Michael Rechtshaffen of Hollywood Reporter.
He adds about Hamm, "Coming off of the final season of Mad Men, Hamm makes a convincing case for big screen stardom here, with a confident, complex performance that makes you want to cheer him on despite those determinedly self-serving character flaws."
Alonso Duralde of The Wrap is all praise for the Indian cast members. "Sharma and Mittal don't even speak English until well into the film, but their wide-eyed innocence plays effectively, as does Pitobash Tripathy's combination of enthusiasm and bewilderment. It's no Win Win, the previous sports movie from screenwriter Thomas McCarthy, but Million Dollar Arm offers up the sort of uncynical delights of Disney's live-action movies from the 1960s; all that's missing is the Flubber."