Skip to main content

Hey, how fast do they pitch in cricket?

Million Dollar Arm
(2014)

Aspirational sports movies tend to have additional cachet when they are based on true stories (The Blind Side). If you can also incorporate an always-popular fish-out-of-water element, so much the better (Cool Runnings). Thomas McCarthy’s screenplay for Million Dollar Arm chronicles how two Indian baseball pitchers were brought to the major leagues (albeit omitting that their success hasn’t been of legendary proportions), but is much more interested in the guy who found them. The result is an overlong feature that hits agreeable notes during its first half, before succumbing to listless montages and forced drama to pad out its running time.


Baseball movies tend to be the most reliable ones in the sport genre. It’s a genre where the formula of the game, or trying and winning, or losing with dignity, is built into storytelling structure. As such, it’s difficult to strike new ground here, and easy to succumb to predictability. The best one can usually hope for is that a familiar ride is reliably fashioned.


The kernel of Million Dollar Arm finds sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm, a down-at-heel Don Draper) struggling to go it alone (“No, I don’t want to work at the Death Star. I hate the Death Star” his partner Aasif Mandvi comments of the prospect of returning to one of the big agencies). He hits upon the idea (during a channel-hopping mix tape of Susan Boyle and a test match) of inviting Indian bowlers to try their arms at baseball, setting up the search as a talent contest (the Million Dollar Arm of the title). There’s the publicity value, of course, but mainly it’s about the not-inconsiderable sweetener for investors of the profits to be tapped from the Indian market, if there are actual players for the cricket-loving populace to get behind.


Inevitably, the movie concentrates on the white guy who found the players rather than the players themselves. Perhaps also inevitably (this being Hollywood) the moviemakers (I’m not necessarily suggesting McCarthy put this in his screenplay) indulge in some lazy cultural stereotyping (the two pitchers are all at sea with magical inventions such as escalators and elevators). Hamm deserves some credit, though, for taking a less-than-noble big screen lead role and playing grouchy and self-centred for much of the proceedings. All Bernstein is interested in is the deal, until he inevitably has his perspective corrected. This encompasses a rather contrived romance with his tenant (Lake Bell; the end titles suggest this element is factual, but their skyping across continents is no less phoney for that) and standing up to the moneyman (Tzi Ma).


While Bernstein’s unreconstituted demeanour is refreshing at first, it’s the only part that is. Million Dollar Arm is likeable, but it manages to be determinedly pedestrian. Craig Gillespie, who, judging by his filmography, is the epitome of a journeyman (his last cinematic outing was Fright Night), only manages to snap into a much-needed rhythm during the first leg. The scenes in India, playing off Bernstein’s culture shock, the excitement of the trials, and the irresistible Alan Arkin’s grumpy talent scout, are well paced and enjoyable. Pitobash’s over-excitable guide Amit provides added comic relief. However, while Suraj Sharma (as the javelin throwing Rinku) and Madhur Mittal (as the runner Dinesh; neither of them turn out to be cricketers, undermining Bernstein’s bowler/pitcher theory) are winning performers, they have the most perfunctory of character beats (homesickness, existing to react to Bernstein’s mistreatment).


The second half of the movie, as Bernstein pursues a big value client and reluctantly allows the players to live with him yet neglects their well-being, runs out of steam. Gillespie goes through the motions with such elements as the party scene (comedy vomiting!), the dashing of dreams, and the second chance/mending of ways. There’s even a toe curling (it’s supposed to be heart-warming, I know) “welcome to India” sequence, in which J.B.’s back garden is turned into an exotic restaurant. Bill Paxton also makes a showing (not one of his memorable) as the idiosyncratic trainer who knows how to treat the lads as human beings, in contrast to grumpy J B.


As I said, it’s the clichés, more than in any other genre, that underpin sports movies. It doesn’t take too much to make a passable one, as long as the basic structure is in place, but it’s contrastingly much more difficult to make a great one. Tom McCarthy has written and directed several fine films (The Station Agent, The Visitor), and his next (Spotlight) sounds promising, yet he comes a bit unstuck here. In the end it’s only A R Rahman’s lively soundtrack that keeps Million Dollar Arm swinging.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?