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Million Dollar Arm: Baseball, sunny side up

The fact-based sports saga Million Dollar Arm is nicely made, likably played, and utterly predictable from beginning to end. Even for those viewers unfamiliar with the actual story the film is based upon, there are very few surprises.

Jon Hamm plays sports agent JB Bernstein as a less intense variation on his acclaimed Don Draper character from AMC’s “Mad Men.” In a bid to save his business, he hatches a scheme by which he will recruit two cricket bowlers from India to participate in pitching tryouts for Major League Baseball. The name of the program? “Million Dollar Arm,” of course.

Once in Mumbai, JB finds Rinku (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma) and Dikesh (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal), but not after an endless number of montage sequences that easily could have been halved with no harm done. The filmmakers are evidently so enamored of Mumbai that at times the film feels like a travelogue.

Once JB returns to the United States with Rinku and Dinesh in tow, the film offers some obvious culture-clash jokes along with the requisite pitching scenes (which aren’t at all bad).

How everything turns out is, as noted before, completely unsurprising.

JB will (of course) undergo a change of heart and become less cynical. He will also realize (of course) that his pretty tenant Brenda (very pretty Lake Bell) is the right girl for him, and Rinku and Dinesh will (of course) defy the odds and obstacles through their pitching … but only after JB manages (of course) to wrangle a second chance for them to do so.

That Million Dollar Arm is a Disney movie is hardly surprising either, given its golden hues and incessantly cheerful tone. The film does allow its Indian actors (also including Aasif Mandvi, Darshan Jariwala and Pitobash) to establish characters that transcend, to some extent, convenient stereotypes. Reliable Bill Paxton is compassionate and fatherly as a college baseball trainer in JB’s corner, and the always welcome Alan Arkin provides comic relief (of course) as a wise-cracking baseball scout.

By overstating the obvious and overstaying its welcome (the film runs over two hours), Million Dollar Arm has the unmistakable aura of a synthetic Hollywood product, pre-packaged and precooked for one’s convenience.

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