RATING: 1.5 stars (out of 4)
Slumdog Millionaire meets The Rookie in Million Dollar Arm, and both walk away after two hours in a lonely walk of shame.
A decade ago, Disney had this sports movie thing pretty well down. There was Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Rookie and Invincible. All of those blended the Mouse House’s saccharine whimsy with improbably amazing true stories that were grounded just enough to keep you from barfing.
Million Dollar Arm spoils that hot streak with the vengeance that David Ortiz does no-hitters. It’s a fish-out-of-water dramedy with little heart and or purpose. Its characters are nothing but props to gawk at as they stumble toward what the movie tells, but never shows, are supposed to be their dreams.
John Hamm plays sputtering sports agent JB, who, along with his partner, Ash (Aasif Mandvi), travels to India to convince cricket bowlers to try their hand at baseball in a reality show format.
The scene in which JB gets the idea is head-slappingly stupid. He watches The X Factor, then switches over to a cricket match, then back to The X Factor, then the cricket match. And then The X Factor again, and then the cricket match. And then, wait for it, back to The X Factor. Watching a guy channel surf in a movie is every bit as entertaining as it is in real life. Subtlety is not this movie’s go-to pitch.
Hamm uses a raspy, Batman-like voice the entire movie, meaning he’s either hungover or is intent on playing a guy who looks exactly like Mad Men‘s Don Draper but wants to differentiate the character by acting like Don Draper with a hangover.
The first half of the movie is JB in India, acting like an ugly American who has contempt for all aspects of the foreign culture he only wants to understand enough to despise. The second half, set in America, has no purpose except to make buffoons of foreigners who don’t understand American customs. The movie is about as culturally sensitive, as well as unfunny and anticlimactic, as The Love Guru.
After sifting through about 980 million wannabes who can’t throw faster than 45 mph, he settles on Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma), who prove to have enough potential to throw batting practice in AA ball. Which is good enough to form a movie around. Patel and Singh are ciphers with no motivation to succeed at baseball, other than it’ s just something to do to escape their day-to-day life in India. Really, though, their purpose is to save JB’s career, make him feel bad for exploiting them, then go ahead and continue to serve the purpose he’s set out for them.
Director Craig Gillespie, who showed promise with the ultra-creepy yet awesome indie Lars and the Real Girl back in 2007, re-emerges as a sellout hack, cramming dopey stereotypes and cutesy Disney-isms into lowest common denominator, feel-good blandness. You really hope the pitchers succeed, but only because it will make the dull, lifeless movie finally hit the showers.
Starring John Hamm, Lake Bell, Saruj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton and Aasif Mandvi. Written by Thomas McCarthy. Directed by Craig Gillespie. 124 minutes. Rated PG.