Movie review: “Million Dollar Arm” piles on the cliches

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From the May 15, 2014 edition

When it comes to sports movies, audiences love a feel-good story. Why, through some Hollywood magic, the recent movie “Draft Day” even managed to turn the Cleveland Browns into a feel-good story.

So it should come as no surprise that Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm” is a feel-good flick, an unabashed (and often saccharine) crowd-pleaser that’s even “based on a true story.”

The movie stars a brooding, impeccably suited Jon Hamm in a performance that will in no way remind you of Don Draper, provided you have never watched the television program “Mad Men.” (Sorry, Jon. Typecasting’s a bitch.)

Hamm plays J.B. Bernstein, a formerly hot sports agent with a shrinking clientele base. In a clever scheme to save his agency, Bernstein decides to target one of the last untapped markets for American athletes, India.

Bernstein sets up a reality television program to comb the cricket-crazed country for potential Major League Baseball-level pitchers.

“Million Dollar Arm” is good-natured and only slightly Disney-fied. Hamm is charming and funny enough to make a sports agent likeable, which is no small feat. Lake Bell is great (as usual) in a mostly unnecessary love story that surely must be fudged from real life. And Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma are great as the underdog Indian pitchers.

But the clichés pile on, and it’s such a lazy slow pitch down the middle at audiences — particularly the cross-culture humor that borders on racist. I call “ball, just outside.”