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Million Dollar Arm Review

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A failing American sports agent (Hamm) persuades a Chinese media mogul (Tzi Ma) to fund a reality show contest in India to find a bowling arm he can turn into a baseball star. So crazy, it could only be a true story.

★★★★

Million Dollar Arm Jerry Maguire meets Slumdog Millionaire and quite delightful. Jon Hamm is ideal for J. B. Bernstein, the slick man about town — LA — who only dates models, likes his luxury lifestyle and needs help finding his humanity (which, trust us, is there somewhere). He is as close to desperate as he can suggest without mussing his perfect hair when his ageing roster of sports-star clients is reduced to one shifty gridiron hotshot who is giving him the runaround. Faced with closing his agency, he’s slumped in front of the telly when, flipping between Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent audition and an international cricket match, a bulb goes on in his head.

Pitching the exploitation of India’s untapped sports and marketing potential is the easy part. Once there for the TV razzmatazz and a scenic cavalcade, sidekicked by a grumpy old baseball scout (Alan Arkin, priceless) and an eager assistant/interpreter (Pitobash, lovable), it’s a chaotic struggle to find kids who can hurl a ball at even half the speed required in baseball. Isn’t it lucky he finds not one, but two prospects, and that they should be as exceptionally attractive and endearing a pair of poor but hopeful dreamers as Rinku and Dinesh (Life Of Pi’s Suraj Sharma and Slumdog’s Madhur Mittal)? Back in the US, the lads cope with isolation and pressure, along with the wonders of elevators, pizza and J. B.’s beguiling doctor tenant (Lake Bell).

Screenwriter Tom McCarthy, better known for directing his own scripts (The Station Agent, The Visitor), balances humour with heart, culture-clash comedy with character. The fish-out-of-water story of the Indian contingent is a real winner, even when the familiar redemption-of-a-jerk game relies heavily on Hamm’s Mad seduction skills to keep scoring. Director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night, Lars And The Real Girl) captures the vibrancy and colour of India through J. B.’s exasperation and bewilderment particularly beautifully. Clichés of the genre are impossible to avoid given they happened, but anyway, this is Disney, and one really insists on seeing people and events get a happy, and historic, ending.

Very funny underdog comedy that’s genuinely heartwarming and full of charm.

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