Release Date: May 16, 2014
Rating: PG (mild language and some suggestive content)
Genre: Sports Drama
Run Time: 124 minutes
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharma

Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm is a heartwarming (and completely predictable) underdog story. But hey, just because we’ve seen it all before doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching again.

It’s a baseball movie that’s not about baseball. Sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) and his partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi, The Internship) are down on their luck. Their fledgling agency is on the verge of closing; their big clients have retired and they desperately need a win. Then JB has an epiphany: there are billions of people in India. What if all those people could be turned into baseball fans? He sweet-talks a sponsor into backing his idea and sets off to India to discover major-league prospects through a reality TV contest called “Million Dollar Arm.” He’s joined by cranky, narcoleptic sports agent Ray (Alan Arkin, Grudge Match) who doesn’t need to keep his eyes open to spot a winner.

For JB, it’s all about the money, but then, he’s a shallow kind of guy. JB is all about appearances; his house is always spotless, his ‘girlfriends’ are always models. In contrast, Brenda (Lake Bell, Mr. Peabody & Sherman), the medical student who rents the bungalow behind JB’s house, is a down-to-earth type whose appeal is more the wholesome, girl-next-door kind.  It’s a nice contrast and they play well together, first via Skype while JB is in India and later after he comes home with his trophies . . . that is, with the contest winners.

Who those winners are is, like so much of this story, obvious from the first moment we meet them. Dinesh (Madhur Mittal, Slumdog Millionaire) is a serious worrywart while Rinku (Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi) is more carefree and adventurous. The bond between the boys feels natural, partly because it is. “We had a lot of common ground.” Mittal said.  Like the characters they portray, neither had played baseball before. The real Dinesh Patel was enlisted by the producers to coach the boys in all things baseball so they could at least fake it for the camera. Onscreen, the boys are taught baseball fundamentals by pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton, Agents of Shield), whom Paxton described as “sort of the Obi-Wan Kenobi of coaches.”

But as I said, this is not a movie about baseball: It’s about family, relationships that matter, and what true success really looks like. JB went to India to find a cash cow but eventually comes to realize that what he was really looking for was himself. Hamm offers a finely nuanced performance as he travels the road from self-important jerk to upstanding guy.

While much of the humor comes from the Indian boys adapting to modern American amenities and social customs, it’s never mean-spirited. Much of that is due to Amit (Pitobash), whose boundless enthusiasm nearly steals the show. Making his American debut in Million Dollar Arm, Pitobash is earnest, funny, and appealing, all at the same time. I defy any viewer to listen to his big inspirational speech without blinking back a tear or two.