'Million Dollar Arm': Hamm and cheese

Posted: May 16, 2014

"MILLION DOLLAR ARM" is a movie about pitching, but the baseball kind.

Its putative hero is a sports agent, and its plot is about a marketing ploy.

And although there've been good movies about sports agents before, "Million Dollar Arm" feels like "Jerry Maguire" by way of Jay Mohr's character.

Jon Hamm plays JB Bernstein, an L.A. swell who drives a Porsche and lives on a property big enough to accommodate a guesthouse, where he stores Lake Bell, in case he runs short on models.

Yet Bernstein, we're to believe, is hard up. He's left a big agency to form his own (with Aasif Mandvi), and they're short on clients and revenue.

So, Bernstein comes up with an attention-grabbing scheme - go to India, offer a million bucks and a pro contract to any cricket player who can through a 90 mph fastball

He gets money for the idea, goes to India with an elderly scout (Alan Arkin), and I don't know if Arkin is tired of telling prostate jokes in movies, but I'm certainly tired of hearing them.

Hamm, for his part, is limited to one note - curt impatience.

Everything about India annoys him, and his condescension adds to the feel of exploitation that surrounds the entire enterprise.

On the other hand, "Arm" gets a boost from the appealing Indian actors (Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharma) who play the young men who win Bernstein's contest - the movie's too-short examination of their lives in India accounts for its best moments. (Remember when sports movies were about athletes?)

Back in the U.S., "Arm" follows the sports-movie cliche playbook - the boys get coaching from Bill Paxton, have a rough tryout, then get one last shot at a big-league deal (the movie's based on a true story).

Mostly, though, we're supposed to thrill to the thawing of Bernstein's chilly persona, which Hamm, still reeking of Don Draper, does not really sell.

Also, Bernstein's mission to outsource baseball is not a rousing one. Sports movies are increasingly leaving the field for the front office ("Moneyball," "Draft Day"), and I'm not sure they're the better for it.

Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

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