'Million Dollar Arm': What the Critics Are Saying

11:08 AM PST 05/16/2014 by Debbie Emery

Jon Hamm, Lake Bell and Alan Arkin team up for this inspirational comedy based on the true story of a sports agent who travels to India looking for baseball's next star pitcher.

Million Dollar Arm is predicted to hit a home run when it swings into theaters Friday, going up against the monster action blockbuster Godzilla, which made $9.3 million Thursday night. The Jon Hamm starrer is expected to open between $10 million and 12 million.

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Based on the true story of sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who attempted to rehabilitate his career by launching a reality competition in India to bring a cricket player to the MLB, the film also stars Lake Bell and Alan Arkin, with Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal playing the Indian teenagers catapulted into the very American world of baseball.

The feel-good family film from Disney was directed by Craig Gillespie, written by Tom McCarthy, produced by Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray (who specializes in sports films, such as Secretariat, The Rookie and Invincible), and has ESPN's Bill Simmons and Connor Schell among the executive producers.

Read what top critics are saying about Million Dollar Arm:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Michael Rechtshaffen wrote that Million Dollar Arm feels "like a Jerry Maguire/Slumdog Millionaire combo platter with a hefty side serving of The Blind Side -- but it's mighty satisfying nonetheless," explaining that Hamm "doesn't shy away from revealing a darker underbelly to his underdog character." A "keenly observed script" by McCarthy and deft direction by Gillespie "should have audiences cheering," predicted Rechtshaffen. "Million Dollar Arm is filled with richly drawn characters and offbeat humor, but it also doesn't avoid dealing with more uncomfortable issues -- specifically the exploitative nature of Bernstein's career gambit," he wrote, adding that coming off Mad Men, Hamm makes a "convincing case for big-screen stardom here, with a confident, complex performance that makes you want to cheer him on despite those determinedly self-serving character flaws."

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Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan stuck with the sports sound bites and wrote that the film "throws out a nice softball." Describing it as "genially enjoyable … it makes touching all the bases feel like fun." As Million Dollar Arm spends "a chunk of its time in India, vividly photographed by Gyula Pados to an A.R. Rahman soundtrack," Turan focused on the role of "Ray Poitevint, the cranky old major league scout Bernstein hires to help him figure out who's got talent. As played by the always amusing Alan Arkin, Poitevint is so savvy he can tell how fast a prospect is pitching by the sound the ball makes hitting the catcher's glove." He added that, thanks to Hamm's easy charm and comic timing, the role "fits him like a broken-in glove."

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday said there is "a special place of honor reserved for that rare film that can appeal to just about everyone," explaining that Million Dollar Arm is "a terrific story by way of an appealing cast, handsome production values and a warm, unaffected tone." She credited McCarthy for beautifully adapting the "real-life story first brought to light by sports producers Neil and Michael Mandt." While the Disney production "doesn't break the familiar mold of come-from-behind sports movies … it does so with understatement, style and an exceptional group of actors who bring just the right balance of humor and restraint to their roles." Hornaday deemed it "heartwarming and wholesome without condescending or pandering" and wrote: "It deserves a solid spot in the win column."

Boston Globe's Ty Burr ventured that your kids will probably like Million Dollar Arm a lot, "and that's what matters." However, he said the film was "an average movie, and that isn't bad -- just average." And "while the treatment of some of the locals verges on ethnic caricature … Million Dollar Arm generally takes pains to see the humanity in everyone, especially Rinku (Sharma) and Dinesh (Mittal), the two young athletes Bernstein ends up bringing home to groom for MLB scouts."

The New York Times' Stephen Holden said that it was "presented as an a-ha moment of spiritual revelation" yet called the film "watchable but rambling" and said that it lacks the bite or tension of Jerry Maguire. "This, after all, is a Disney family movie, and every conflict is softened by inspirational cliches," he explained.

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