Sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) used to be the Big Man on the Block, yet when we first meet him in Craig Gillespie’s paint-by-numbers baseball movie, he can barely make ends meet. Then a fleeting moment of channel-surfing inspiration involving a cricket match and—no joke—Susan Boyle’s viral performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” gives him a career-resuscitating scheme: Go East, middle-aged man, and run a talent competition to discover the first major-league pitchers from India.
Million Dollar Arm aims to be our national pastime’s Slumdog Millionaire, a First World–meets–Third World melodrama with sports as the grand uniter. Every emotional beat is calculated, which the film pretty much cops to when the characters—including imported fastball slingers Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal)—watch the Gary Cooper staple The Pride of the Yankees and remark on its tear-jerking effectiveness. What keeps you watching is the charisma of the performers: Hamm does an amiable riff on his Don Draper persona (he’s cynical before the big melt), Lake Bell is a delight as his tart-tongued love interest, and Sharma and Mittal are all charm as the cultures-uniting underdogs.
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