Monday, June 9, 2014

Million Dollar Arm (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Million Dollar Arm

Disney's "Million Dollar Arm" hits with a surprise in spite of its oft-filmed "underdog" story. It is nothing less than a carbonated and bouncy true and somewhat wild tale of sports agent J. B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and his quest for a baseball star in India.

While Hamm remains as aloof and arrogant as ever in the mode of Don Draper, his character has enough pulse and depth to push all arching eyebrow elitism into the background and deliver charm. This is simply an unpretentious and buoyant drama as is, or at least as it might have been. Though it just might have a few ghosts from "A Christmas Carol" dancing within.

As Disney films go, it does not seem like pop or pablum, never benching or belittling its audience.

Bernstein is up against the wall without clients, spending tv nights with his partner and irreverent friend Ash (Aasif Mandvi). One night he sees the singer Susan Boyle onscreen and then moves to a cricket match in India. Half asleep, Bernstein gets a jolt of Eureka. Why not try to find and invest in an Indian baseball player?

Ash goes along with him but the trick is to get support, let alone find a talented player.

The real flight of the film is its charm and the spirit of its actors Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal as baseball wonders Rinku and Dinesh respectively.

Both actors have a refreshing charge with a lightness that is irresistible and it is impossible not to be carried away by this American pastime account with its Orientalist and curried trimmings.

Not one actor overreaches or upstages in pitch. Even the  predictable Alan Arkin as a grouchy scout works because his outing is spare and not heavily played. Indie darling Lake Bell is present too, as an earnest and bohemian med student and her part is subtle and well placed as a kind of foil to Hamm's Type A character.

An undeniable spark is embodied in Pitobash Tripathy who plays Bernstein's assistant with a bubbling humor that makes it all infectious entertainment.

Another highlight is a fizzy score by Bollywood film maestro A.R. Rahman that gives the music an almost visual and collage-like scope.

Yes, "Million Dollar Arm" is unshakably light and breezy in its multicultural mirth and positivity but it all works like a faultlessly weighted and balanced Mickey Mouse watch fit for one purpose: to be lifted in smiles and propelled in sentiment.

In watching the full motion of this story, there is a touching poignance that our mystery and romance for all things India remain, decades after Edward Said and in spite of our hermetic and technologically abstract age. As kitschy as it is, there is something dreamy, quaint and giddily ornate in the sight of Lake Bell in a Sari walking along a homemade Shangri-La.

"Million Dollar Arm" also makes the somewhat obvious but vital message that differences in spirit and competition become immaterial. A hero's story in India becomes an American tall tale here, but this makes events no less true.

Here is a matinee mandala made by Mickey and composed with orbs of joy. Better still, it has a plot that informs as well as it rises and it is sure to please throughout.

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