Out of a nozzle on the Disney movie-making machine labeled “inspiring sports dramas” comes “Million Dollar Arm,” a rote, emotionally blank lump of fact-based hooey about a sports agent named J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) who saves his career by finding two cricket bowlers in India who can be retrained as baseball pitchers in America. J.B. and his baseball cronies’ stated purpose for doing this to take a crack at the potentially lucrative, as-yet-untapped Indian market for Major League Baseball. Why, if one of ’em played for the big leagues, all 1.2 billion of their countrymen might watch! Think of the merchandising! Really tugs at the heartstrings, no?
The Indian fellows, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), are plucked from open auditions held throughout the country by J.B. and a curmudgeonly old talent scout (who, it need hardly be said, is played by Alan Arkin). With an enthusiastic Indian baseball fan named Amit (Pitobash Tripathy) coming along as a translator, J.B. takes the guys back to Los Angeles to train with an open-minded USC pitching coach (an underused Bill Paxton), with an eye toward a big-league tryout many months hence. In the meantime, they have to live with J.B. in his expensive house because they’re too uncivilized to stay in a hotel (really!), resulting in predictable, very tame “bachelor’s life turned upside-down by wacky visitors” tomfoolery.
The story’s obligatory love interest is Brenda (Lake Bell), a nurse who lives in the bungalow in J.B.’s backyard. You can tell she and J.B. are going to become an item because in her first several scenes there’s literally no other reason for the character to exist.
Directed with atypical apathy by Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) from a wan screenplay by the usually reliable Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “Win Win”), the film shows no actual interest in America’s pastime (we never see anyone play — repeat, there is no baseball playing in this movie), nor in the boys, who are sweet and probably interesting. No, the focus is J.B. Bernstein, a hustling, all-business grump who must learn — you guessed it — what’s really important in life. (It’s love.) The film paints all the numbers the right color, but it does so without passion or joy. Even the charismatic Hamm can’t save it.
C- (2 hrs., 4 min.; )