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There’s some sort of essay or thesis or just a statement to reflect the shift in what’s happened to sports films. No longer are they about great athletes or major accomplishments on the field. Nowadays they’re about managers and executives and agents, with the athletes being used only as puppets to be manipulated. Heck, Moneyball earned an Oscar nomination for telling a story about how Brad Pitt just can’t seem to put the right players in the right order, and that was portrayed as nearly equal to the pressures of being an athlete on the field, making split-second decisions with world-class talents. A little bit of focus on the coaches and deal-makers is fine, and usually results in some good movies. But a good old fashioned story about a peerless athlete would be great one of these days.
It doesn’t really seem like Million Dollar Arm is that movie. A poster and trailer for the film have been released to Coming Soon, and Disney is actually trying to sell this summer sports film release by putting Jon Hamm in a button-down shirt on the art, looking at his cell phone. His damned cell phone! Does ANYBODY care about the sports anymore? Then again, maybe it is misleading: this comes from the pen of Tom McCarthy, who previously scripted Win/Win, The Station Agent and, in a co-writing credit, Up. Maybe there’s more going on in that smartphone than the poster is letting on!
The trailer is pretty straightforward, even a little dry, focusing on Hamm as agent J.B. Bernstein. During a dry spell in his profession (which didn’t really exist, as he’s represented athletes like Barry Bonds and Emmitt Smith), he realizes he can find the next successful pitching arm on the cricket fields in India. One plane ride later, he and elderly scout Alan Arkin uncover two prodigies, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, and they proceed to teach them a little about baseball. Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma play the two flamethrowing rookies, actors who were seen in Slumdog Millionaire and Life Of Pi. But make no mistake, this is about the white guy, particularly his relationship with the cute neighbor played by the delightful Lake Bell (which is a good time to remind you to see her directorial debut In A World… immediately). Bill Paxton and Aasif Mandvi are also aboard, filling out what’s actually a pretty fun cast.
This is serious-seeming stuff, more dry-eyed optimism than wacky culture-clash comedy, so most will be curious to see if Hamm can pull off that whole leading man thing. The trailer makes his performance seem mostly reactive, so it’s hard to gauge what he brings to the role thus far. But it’s also another shot at the mainstream for director Craig Gillespie, who last helmed the unjustly-ignored Fright Night remake. This is basically their shot at the mainstream, with Disney carving out a solid summer release date for them. May 16th pits Million Dollar Arm face-to-face with Godzilla. Good luck, Don Draper.