SBD/May 16, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Disney's "Million Dollar Arm" Doesn't Wow Critics, Called "Inspirational" But "Predictable"

Walt Disney Studios' "MILLION DOLLAR ARM" -- based on the true story of India-born RINKU SINGH and DINESH PATEL winning a reality show pitching contest and signing contracts with the Pirates -- opens Friday to mixed reviews. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES film critic Richard Roeper writing, "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 it "most resembles is 'JERRY MAGUIRE,' except the screenplay, the direction and the performances aren't as memorable." There also is "no Oscar-winning role or lasting catchphrase to be found." The 124-minute film is "at least 20 minutes too long," and that is "without a single batter vs. pitcher confrontation, let alone an actual game." The drama in the film "comes from the number that shows up on a radar gun when one of the prospects takes aim and fires." Roeper: "Not exactly 'THE NATURAL'" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/14). In L.A., Chris Erskine wrote for baseball folks, the film is "a study in how Major League Baseball is reaching out to the world for new talent and fans," while for others, "it's a sweet little story about how a business relationship turns personal, and how several people from different sides of the planet can be brought together by this crazy, maddening sport." Erskine wrote he was "hoping for the next 'THE BLIND SIDE,'" but this "isn't that." However, for those "seeking a live action flick you can take the kids to -- rare as a no-hitter these days - 'Million Dollar Arm' delivers" (L.A. TIMES, 5/15). At presstime, the film had a 54% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes (THE DAILY).

A HOME RUN
: In DC, Ann Hornaday gives "Million Dollar Arm" three stars and writes the film "tells a terrific story by way of an appealing cast, handsome production values and a warm, unaffected tone." It "doesn’t break the familiar mold of come-from-behind sports movies -- indeed, it obeys every convention of the genre." But it does so "with understatement, style and an exceptional group of actors who bring just the right balance of humor and restraint to their roles" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/16). In Pittsburgh, Barbara Vancheri writes it is an "inspirational, enjoyable, old-fashioned family film." It "seems to be the rare movie deserving its 'based on a true story' label" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/16).

JUST ABOVE THE MENDOZA LINE: In Boston, Ty Burr writes, "Your kids will probably like 'Million Dollar Arm' a lot -- and that’s all that really matters -- but some of us wish this inspirational true-life baseball tale were more, um, inspired." It is "an average movie, and that isn't bad -- just average" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/16). In L.A., Kenneth Turan writes viewers can "see the stuff 'Million Dollar Arm' throws at you from miles away, but that doesn't stop this baseball movie from being genially enjoyable" (L.A. TIMES, 5/16). In Seattle, Moira Macdonald wrote it is a movie "you think you’ve seen before, every step of the way." But despite its "overstuffed baggage and slightly bloated running time, 'Million Dollar Arm' is good fun" (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/15). In Pittsburgh, Bob Cohn writes for the most part, the film is "fun, funny and yes, inspirational, enhanced by knowing that what you see -- most of it, anyway -- really happened" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 5/16). In St. Louis, Joe Williams writes it is "as predictable as a 3-and-0 pitch down the middle, but when it’s baseball season, who wants dark clouds?" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/16). In Columbus, Peter Tonguette writes lead actor JON HAMM "gives a Willy Loman-like flavor to his character’s desperate salesmanship as he rehearses a pitch for a football player on his business partner." Director CRAIG GILLESPIE "nicely captures" India's "teeming, traffic-choked atmosphere and its unconventional business practices." The film "careens pleasurably to its foreseeable conclusion, and its devotion to its sport is appealing" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 5/16).

CALLED STRIKEOUT: USA TODAY's Claudia Puig writes "Million Dollar Arm" is a "Jerry Maguire wannabe, with a touch of LIFE OF PI." It is "hampered by a predictable storytelling style and not enough curve balls" (USA TODAY, 5/16). In N.Y., Stephen Holden writes the "watchable but rambling, flaccid movie ... has little of the bite or tension of 'Jerry Maguire.'" It also lacks "the surreal exoticism and charm of its other obvious forerunner, 'SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.'" This is "a Disney family movie, and every conflict is softened by inspirational clichés" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16). The WALL STREET JOURNAL reviews the film as "grimly efficient on its own terms, a string of ever more naked calculations" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/16). In Boston, James Verniere writes, "If you’ve seen the trailer for 'Million Dollar Arm' -- or “Jerry Maguire Meets Slumdog Millionaire” -- you’ve seen the movie." The best place to see it "might be on an airplane" to "pass the time" (BOSTON HERALD, 5/16). In S.F., Mick LaSalle writes, "'Million Dollar Arm' is in that odd, fake-true category." Hamm is "the movie's strongest asset and its only unalloyed advantage." The movie's ending within minutes is "apparent and inevitable, even to someone who knows nothing of the real story." The movie "takes forever to get there," and it is "at least 30 minutes too long" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/16). MCCLATCHY's Roger Moore writes under the header, "'Million Dollar Arm' Swings, Misses Too Much." Gillespie "goes out of his way not to offend in the Indian scenes." The film is "a baseball comedy that is as tentative as a base on balls" (MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE, 5/16).

SPORTS MOVIES STRUGGLING? Walt Disney Studios Exec VP/Theatrical Distribution DAVE HOLLIS said that the studio "will be happy if the film debuts to north" of $10M during its opening weekend, a figure "that pre-release tracking suggests it will hit." VARIETY's Brent Lang wrote "Million Dollar Arm," with its $25M budget, is "throwback to the kind of inspirational sports movies that the studio once routinely put on the field, a legacy of athletic uplift that included such successes as 'MIRACLE,' 'REMEMBER THE TITANS' and 'INVINCIBLE,' but one that has been left untended of late." Hollis said that the film's May release date was "designed to capitalize on the start of baseball season." The timing has also "allowed the studio to engage in a bit of synergy with its corporate sibling, ESPN, with the hosts of programs such as 'Baseball Tonight' talking up the picture on the air." To that end, the net's BILL SIMMONS was "tapped as executive producer on the film" (VARIETY.com, 5/14). USA TODAY's Scott Bowles wrote strong early reviews and box office projections for "Million Dollar Arm" are a "welcome sign for the sports-film genre, which has been a decades-long staple of the film industry but has struggled of late." Most sports films have "become long shots at the box office." Bowles cites Box Office Mojo data as showing that the "average sports drama" earns $27M. But experts said that sports are "too ingrained in American culture to disappear from the landscape" (USA TODAY, 5/14).

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: Former MLBer and pitching coach TOM HOUSE, who trained Singh and Patel, said, "I thought it was a really, really good show. It represented very well the agent and the two kids, to get here to the United States and how hard they worked to sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and how hard the agent, J.B. BERNSTEIN, worked to try to get a movie. I thought it was well done across the board." House added he was "kind of a consultant" on the film, in which he is played by BILL PAXTON, and has "a real small cameo at the end" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 5/15). Hamm said of the film, "It's not really a baseball movie. It's not 'MAJOR LEAGUE' or 'The Natural.' It's a story about a guy who takes steps to change his life for the better and two boys who worked their asses off and changed their lives for the better as well" (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 5/12 issue). USA Today's BOB NIGHTENGALE was among six baseball scouts in the film "not named ALAN ARKIN" who were played by actual sportswriters (USA TODAY, 5/6). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Debbie Emery noted ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" last week aired live "for the first time from a Hollywood premiere" when the film debuted at the El Capitan Theatre (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 5/7). Meanwhile, FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote under the header, "Could 'Million Dollar Arm' Help Indians Dare To Dream Of Baseball?" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/4).
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