The fact is, JB Bernstein is getting a little desperate.
He may not look desperate, with his polished presentation, great house, brand-new Porsche and regular parade of model girlfriends. But those are all remnants of his previous career. He was once a successful sports agent working for a big firm and scooping up the big bucks. Now, however, he’s a struggling sports agency owner. And things haven’t been going so well.
He and his business partner, Ash, just lost their last big-name football star to those bottom-feeders at Pro-Corp. And if they can’t come up with something quick, their whole own-your-own-business gamble will go up in smoke. But no matter how many beers they cry into, nothing seems to be moving their way.
Then while morosely clicking through a bunch of random TV shows—ranging from singing competitions to cricket matches—a light bulb blazes to life in JB’s head.
What if they created a sports talent contest … in India?
Those Indian athletes throw the ball, like, a hundred miles an hour. Sure, that crazy cricket stuff looks like they opened up an insane asylum and suggested the inmates create a game. But what if they could find some great arms over there and turn them into baseball pitchers?
We could call it, uh, “Million Dollar Arm!”
Even if it didn’t work, the publicity would be outrageous. And if it did work, you’re talking about a billion new baseball fans, all wanting T-shirts and ball caps. This could be HUGE.
The whole idea is impossible, of course. Dopey. A last-ditch stretch for a gold ring that still danced and swung way above their heads. It’ll never work.
But it does work … to a certain point.
JB and Ash find a sponsor to inject a little cash into the idea. They get international TV coverage. And they get thousands of Indian hopefuls lining up to toss a ball. They even, eventually, find two 18-year-olds, Rinku and Dinesh, who can chuck it in the 80 mph range.
Getting those kids ready for an MLB tryout, however, is a long slog. But there are some plusses that come from the effort. JB’s interactions with Rinku and Dinesh (and an Indian interpreter named Amit) have a positive impact on his world. Brenda stresses to him that the boys need to see that he cares about them before they’ll be able to perform well. And he slowly comes to the realization that life isn’t made up simply of cutthroat business, fast cars and faster women, changing his direction and evaluating what’s really of importance.
JB has a renter named Brenda who lives in a small house on the rear of his property. And as her friendship with Rinku and Dinesh flourishes, she eventually helps JB see that he can develop and enjoy relationships that go deeper than a shallow one-night stand. JB actually reaches the point where he stands up for his new friends and puts his entire business’s future on the line to help them. He speaks of his feelings of pride for the guys’ dogged efforts and tells them he’s grown to love them.
Marriage for JB is off the table, he emphatically says. But by the time the credits roll we not only see how far his character has come in that area, we see photos of the real JB Bernstein, married and with his kids.
Bindis are painted on foreheads. A small shrine of candles and flowers is set up; we see the Hindu-believing boys regularly kneel there to pray. Rinku asks JB where he prays, and the agent replies, “I don’t pray, I work.” Then JB later joins the guys in their morning prayer.
Brenda is called JB’s “backyard hottie.” There’s a bit of sexual tension throughout the film between the two, and they end up spending the night together on at least one occasion. Meanwhile, it’s implied that both JB and Brenda have regular sleep-over sexual partners. (We never see any of the couples in bed together.) Rinku and Dinesh lend some appropriate perspective when they find out that Brenda kissed JB: They promptly wonder when the two will marry.
There’s a joke about Brenda sleeping with a repair man to cut the bill in half. Rinku walks in on one of JB’s female model “friends” while she’s using the toilet. (We see her briefly.) One of Brenda’s boyfriends is shirtless, showing off a bit after a workout. Brenda wears cleavage- and/or midriff-revealing tops. A party features lots of women in bikinis and skimpy formfitting outfits.
A slice on the finger is about as bloody or dangerous as things get.
Two or three exclamations each of “h‑‑‑” and “god!” One use of “d‑‑n,” one of “horse crap.”
JB regularly tosses back beer or harder booze. He shares a few drinks with Brenda and Ash. A pro football player’s party seems to be all about the alcohol; we see one guy who’s drunk and passed out. Unknowingly, Rinku, Dinesh and Amit all drink spiked punch at the party and two of them throw up in JB’s car.
Rinku reports that Eminem is one of his favorite music artists. JB has to bribe craftsmen and workers in India to move forward with his plans.
Mad Men’s Jon Hamm plays a hard-driving business guy with a sleep-around, live-it-up lifestyle … only this time it’s not the 1960s and there’s a happy ending. And baseball.
Yep, Million Dollar Arm is a sports underdog story that spends most of its time going for walks with a rather unlikeable dog. We’re conditioned to pull for the kindly Karate Kids or Rocky Balboas of the world. And how could anyone not want to root for a couple likeable, earnest and starry-eyed guys from India hoping to make it in the Majors? But there’s the rub. ‘Cause Disney isn’t exactly telling that tale. The rags-to-riches tale of Rinku and Dinesh might have played out like a combination of Rudy and The Rookie … but we’ll have to wait for that version.
This is a pic about the down-on-his-luck sports agent who finds those guys. It’s technically the same adventure, but with an important change of focus. Because JB Bernstein ain’t much of a cheer-worthy Chuck, you see. He’s shallow, self-focused and more concerned with his business and playboy lifestyle than he is with the people around him. And, well, you want to slap him upside the head through most of the film.
So taking in Million Dollar Arm is a little like watching that last-minute game-winning homer after sitting all day in a bad spot at the ballpark. You still cheer. You still smile. But you kinda wish you could have seen the game without enduring all those rude comments from the raucous guy behind you who had too many beers in his belly.
At least the flick does eventually find its way ’round all the right bases. It crosses home plate with a long-ball message of scorning lust and lucre for family and friendship. JB learns his lesson and trades in his self-obsession for some tender loving care … right about the same time he sells his convertible and replaces it with a minivan. (And we then see the real Bernstein applying those lessons to a family of his own during the credits.) Of course, the fate of young Rinku and Dinesh ends in a happy high-five as well.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.