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Jon Hamm makes OK entertainment from inspirational sports movie cliches in Million Dollar Arm

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In MILLION DOLLAR ARM, which is based on a true story, the man who will soon no longer be Don Draper stars as J.B. Bernstein, a once-successful sports agent looking for the next big thing to keep him afloat. While flipping TV channels between an Indian cricket match and the star-making clip of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent, he gets the idea to scour Indian cricket for the next great American baseball pitcher.

After traveling to India and holding an extensive reality-show tryout contest, he finds two unlikely candidates (Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal and Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma). Of course, wacky culture-clashing ensues once Bernstein brings them to Los Angeles to train, also becoming their unlikely caretaker.

It doesn't take long for Jon Hamm's playboy character to put his hustle on pause and appreciate the simple things in life, thanks to his international guests. This is a Disney movie, after all, and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) follows the inspirational sports movie rulebook to the letter, maintaining an earnest, inoffensive tone. (I do wonder how Indian audiences will feel about seeing their homeland portrayed as a quirky, adorably corrupt place.) There's a mention of one of the boys being called a nasty name, but we never find out what it is, and any racial ugliness that might surface when these boys hit American soil is kept to a minimum.

The movie certainly found the right screenwriter in Tom McCarthy, who previously tackled both cross-cultural relations (The Visitor) and underdog sports prodigies (Win Win) in his middlebrow independent films. The movie surrounds Hamm with good supporting players, including Bill Paxton as a brainy pitching coach, Lake Bell as Bernstein's no-nonsense love interest and Alan Arkin, working his patented curmudgeonly mojo as a veteran scout. But even if they were replaced by nobodies, Hamm has the innate charm to still make this an OK movie. As a guy who plays one of the most bastardly TV protagonists in history, he knows how to find the redeeming qualities in career-driven assholes.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Reality bites."

Related Film

Million Dollar Arm

Director: Craig Gillespie

Writer: Tom McCarthy

Producer: Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray

Cast: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash and Alan Arkin

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