'Million Dollar Arm' Delivers Ball-Park Size Enjoyment

Lots of films are based on true stories, but film critic Kenneth Turan says Million Dollar Arm is especially endearing. The film stars Jon Hamm of Mad Men and is directed by Craig Gillespie.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next on this Friday morning, our film critic Kenneth Turan has this pitch for a baseball movie.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: You can see the stuff "Million Dollar Arm" throws at you from miles away, but that doesn't stop it from being genially enjoyable. It's an example of the pleasant things that happen when a better class of people work on Disney family films.

"Million Dollar Arm"'s focus is on sports agent JB Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm of "Mad Men." Desperate for a deal to keep his firm afloat, Bernstein gets a brainstorm. He decides to go to India, find capable young cricket players, bring them to the U.S. and turn them into ace major league hurlers. It's all dollars and cents to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MILLION DOLLAR ARM")

JON HAMM: (as JB Bernstein) If we can deliver to Major League Baseball it's first Indian ballplayer, that's a billion new fans. What do a billion new fans need: a billion hats, a billion T-shirts.

TURAN: Bernstein is initially flummoxed when he arrives in India, where things don't always go according to plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MILLION DOLLAR ARM")

HAMM: (as JB Bernstein) The equipment that we sent over - the batting cages, balls, bats - that's all here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And I am happy to confirm that they all are here in India.

HAMM: (as JB Bernstein) But you don't have them here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, they are at the customs. I think we should be working on that.

TURAN: Bernstein perseveres and brings two players back to the U.S. They have to learn baseball but, this being a Disney family film, the agent has to learn a thing or two as well. Bernstein is used to putting the deal first. But with help from an attractive neighbor, played by Lake Bell, he realizes he has to pay attention to these young men as people if he wants them to perform as athletes.

All this sounds rather didactic. As written by Tom McCarthy and directed by Craig Gillespie - who did the wonderful "Lars and the Real Girl," "Million Doll Arm" doesn't push. Star Jon Hamm is especially effective, displaying an easy charm and nice comic instincts in a role that fits him like a broken-in glove. Watching someone become more of an adult is rarely painless, but "Million Dollar Arm" makes the lessons go down easy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews films for MORNING EDITION and for the Los Angeles Times.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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