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‘Million Dollar Arm’: In Jon Hamm baseball film, you’ll see every pitch coming

A sports agent (JHamm) goes Indimeets some promising pitchers (Madhur Mittal Suraj Sharm) baseball fan (Pitobash) “MilliDollar Arm.” | WALT

A sports agent (Jon Hamm) goes to India and meets some promising pitchers (Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharm) and a baseball fan (Pitobash) in “Million Dollar Arm.” | WALT DISNEY PICTURES

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JB Bernstein Jon Hamm

Dinesh Madhur Mittal

Rinku Suraj Sharma

Ray Alan Arkin

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Tom McCarthy. Running time: 124 minutes. Rated PG (for mild language and some suggestive content). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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Updated: June 17, 2014 11:38AM

If you’ve never seen “The Rookie,” “The Blind Side,” “Miracle,” “Remember the Titans,” “Invincible,” “Cool Runnings,” “Hoosiers,” “Seabiscuit” or a dozen other inspirational sports movies, you might find something truly original and innovative in “Million Dollar Arm,” which of course is based on a true story and is designed to have us literally cheering during the final scenes, which will be followed by an end credit sequence where we find out what happened to the real-life people whose story has just been told and see how much (or how little) they resemble the movie stars that portrayed them.

Nearly everything in this movie feels borrowed from other movies and ever so slightly reshaped, and almost never for the better. The sports film that “Million Dollar Arm” most resembles is “Jerry Maguire,” except the screenplay, the direction and the performances aren’t as memorable. There’s no Oscar-winning role or lasting catchphrase to be found here.

Jon Hamm’s JB Bernstein, a down-on-his-luck sports agent, isn’t that far removed from Hamm’s “Mad Men” character of Don Draper, only he’s not nearly as complex. He’s Draper Lite: a self-involved, womanizing, hard-drinking loner with a cynical worldview.

JB is movie-star handsome beneath the casually perfect stubble and the extra-dark shaded sunglasses. He’s also on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to sign some top prospects.

Late-night epiphany time! But instead of writing a manifesto a la Jerry Maguire, JB creates a marketing gimmick that seems so outlandish it’s a good thing we know it’s based on a true story. JB will travel to India, land of 1.7 billion cricket fans, and attempt to tap into the last great market for baseball with a widely publicized search for a couple of prospects with potential “million-dollar arms.” Potential slumdog millionaires, if you will.

Once JB’s in India, we’re constantly reminded it’s overpopulated, noisy — and as JB indelicately notes, it smells. Oh, and there’s the Taj Mahal in the background for one of JB’s many Skype conversations with Brenda (Lake Bell), the fetching medical student who rents the guest cottage on his property. How come JB has never really talked to Brenda even though she literally lives in his backyard? Because as he so gallantly tells her, she’s not like the supermodels he usually beds down.

Alan Arkin almost literally sleepwalks through his performance as Ray, the crotchety old scout who joins JB to help in judging the competition. Ray’s so good he can close his eyes and still tell you how many miles per hour the prospects are throwing, and the radar gun will bear him out. It’s like open tryouts on “The Voice,” only without the cover songs.

The tryout sequences go on forever, until a finals competition that takes place in front of a wildly cheering throng, which is pretty weird given almost nobody in India follows baseball. Suraj Sharma’s Rinku and Madhur Mittal’s Dinesh are selected as the winners, which means their families get an influx of cash and they’re going to the United States to compete for a possible million-dollar deal.

As much as “Million Dollar Arm” traffics in easy cliches during the India-set sequences, it’s twice as bad once we’re back in the States. The wide-eyed Indian teenagers, who speak not a lick of English upon their arrival but of course are quick learners, marvel at everything from escalators to elevator doors to pizza to pretty girls in bikinis to JB’s Porsche. What a strange and magical new world!

Bill Paxton lends authenticity to the role of Tom House, a real-life former major league pitcher and USC baseball coach who patiently works with the prospects while JB selfishly attends to other matters. Rinku and Dinesh are polite and likable and earnest, but there’s not much to their character arcs beyond trying too hard to please everyone. A scene where Brenda, Rinku and Dinesh surprise JB with an Indian-themed celebration is embarrassingly hokey.

Just as “The Blind Side” was more about the mom than the offensive tackle, just as “Jerry Maguire” was more about the agent than the wide receiver, just as “Hoosiers” was more about the coach than the basketball team, “Million Dollar Arm” is more interested in the redemption of JB Bernstein than the amazing adventure of these two young men. When the prospects fail, it’s all about how JB handles it. When they triumph, it’s all about JB clenching his fist and closing his eyes and saying, “YES!”

At two-plus hours, “Million-Dollar Arm” is at least 20 minutes too long. And that’s without a single batter vs. pitcher confrontation, let alone an actual game. The drama in “Million-Dollar Arm” comes from the number that shows up on a radar gun when one of the prospects takes aim and fires.

Not exactly “The Natural.”


Twitter: @richardroeper

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