Million Dollar Arm (Craig Gillespie, 2014) – Million Dollar Arm is one of those gently racist inspirational Hollywood stories that pop up every few years. One that mines laughter out of how ridiculous, silly, and different other cultures are before proving that folks from those fantastical foreign lands can get on just fine in America as long as they sublimate. Of course, the heroes of this tale aren’t the foreign characters, but Jon Hamm essentially playing Jerry Maguire: a sleazy sports agent forced to find his heart while struggling to launch his own agency. It’s been years since Hamm was making the big cash he needs to fulfill his ritzy lifestyle, but one night he catches Susan Boyle’s performance on Britain’s got Talent and a cricket game at the same time and a giant clichéd light bulb appears above his head. So Hamm heads out to India to run a reality series hoping to find a cricket bowler with the arm to be a major league pitcher. He brings along Alan Arkin playing a veteran baseball scout to do his crabby late-career Alan Arkin thing. Then Hamm finds the villain from Slumdog Millionaire (Madhur Mittal) and the hero from Life Of Pi (Suraj Sharma) who have the stuff to join the majors. They eventually come to America for a few rounds of culture clash comedy and some heart-melting lessons to complete the live action Disney movie template.
While baseball has delivered some of the greatest sports movies ever made (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, The Bad News Bears, Eight Men Out, etc.), it’s also by far the country’s most romanticized sport and is frequently mined for sappy weepies. Million Dollar Arm falls straight into that category. The fact that it was all based on a strange true story and got a script from Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, Up) suggests that it could have been an unconventional sports dramedy along the lines of Moneyball. But unfortunately the Disney-fication process smoothed out all the rough edges to deliver a movie pitched somewhere between a C-level Jerry Maguire knock off and a D-level Crocodile Dundee knock-off. It’s one of those movies that plays cultural stereotypes about India for laughs for 90-minutes only to toss in 20-minutes of grudging cultural acceptance in an attempt to counter balance all the xenophobia. It’s not outrageously offensive, just depressingly old fashioned. The general public knows more about Indian culture than anyone in the movie, so why pretend it’s still 1962? Not to mention the fact that the film conveniently leaves out the fact that the actual Indian players signed pathetically low-playing contracts and never made it close to the major leagues.
Director Craig Gillespie’s cinematic ode to baseball, cultural stereotypes, and mediocre melodrama does at least debut in a pretty HD package. The Blu-Ray video and audio transfers are top notch, ensuring that the gently offensive India sight-seeing and the silly soundtrack are available at home in the finest possible quality. You might be offended by this Million Dollar Arm disc for a variety of reasons, but a poor technical presentation isn’t one of them! As for special features, prepare thyself for 12 whole minutes of promo fluff documentary footage broken into three featurettes based on the pitching challenges, biographical details, and soundtrack of the movie. There’s nothing here that is memorable or interesting, but at least it can all be consumed in 12 minutes. Then there are 2.5 minutes of disposable deleted scenes, A 50 second alternate ending that differs from the actual theatrical ending by about 8 seconds and outtakes that at least suggest at some point someone had fun with this movie (even if it wasn’t the audience). So, what we’ve got here is an awful movie on a pretty disc with a special feature section that can be consumed in roughly 15 minutes. It’s the exact definition of a disposable Blu-ray release. You may as well just skip the acquiring part of that disposable process. It’ll save some time. (Phil Brown)