Million Dollar Arm is schmaltz at its schmaltziest. It’s not a horrible film, to be sure, and I’d dare say that it’s a competent one, but my god is it the same generic Disney schmooze that we’ve seen again and again and again from virtually every single one of their sports-themed live-action inspiration-fests. It falls so deep into the pits of mediocrity that there isn’t even that much to say about it, but I spent two hours watching the damn thing, so I’m going to give the film a full review.
BJ Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm being as Don Draper as he usually is, is a sports agent who is down on his luck and needs a big signing to pull his agency out of the red. While watching TV one night, he gets the idea to go to India, recruit young cricket fans through a game show called “Million Dollar Arm,” and take the winners and groom them into baseball pitchers. This would function both as a publicity stunt and open up a huge market to baseball fandom in India. What follows is a story of taking the two winners to the U.S., along with a quirky wannabe baseball coach, and teaching them the ropes of baseball while getting them accustomed to American life.
Despite the baseball theming, this isn’t really as much a sports drama as it is a coming-of-age story for BJ. The romantic interest is immediately identifiable by virtue of being the only real character with breasts, and, through her, BJ comes to identify his young protégés as the kids he never had. As his focus becomes less business-like and tries to relate more to the budding athletes, BJ becomes the patriarch of a symbolically nuclear family. It’s so cheesily Disney that every major plot point was easily predictable from the first act.
But being formulaic isn’t really a knock against a film, though it is up to the film’s director and producers to rise above conventions to deliver something new and interesting, and this film fails in that respect. By being exactly the cute, family-oriented sports-themed drama that you expect, it never exhibits any ambition to be something memorable, and ultimately feels like a waste of time. There’s nothing outright bad about the film, but it’s such a by-the-numbers affair that there’s no way to recommend it over any of the other uninspired denizens of the Wonderful World of Live-Action Disney. If this is your chosen film genre and don’t mind forgetting everything about it after it’s over, Million Dollar Arm might be worth a rental. Everyone else shouldn’t even bother.
Coach Carter. Mircale. Incredible. The Mighty Ducks. I could go on. Have a favorite? Is it possible to have a favorite beyond just preferring the sport on display? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.