As the film opens J.B.’s clientele has aged, retired and not been replaced. He and his partner Aash (Assif Mandvi) are working to close a deal with National Football League superstar linebacker Popo (Rey Maualuga.) J.B. and Aash believe that they have Popo all wrapped up and that his account will carry their firm from near disaster to solvency. Popo is a fully tattooed, ponytailed, menacing looking hulk of a specimen who commands mega bucks for his services — thus significant revenue for J.B.’s and Aash’s faltering firm Seven Digit Enterprises. Popo, however chooses to sign with another firm leaving J.B. and Aash with a wavering enterprise and no viable options.
Aash is from India and a cricket aficionado. J.B., on the other hand, finds cricket boring and incomprehensible. Nonetheless, J.B has an epiphany watching the cricket equivalent of a baseball pitcher — the bowler. Bernstein figures that among the untold millions of Indian cricket players — many of whom are bowlers — that there must be some who are able to throw a baseball at 100 miles per hour. The idea evolves into an Indian TV reality show competition called “The Million Dollar Arm.” J.B. convinces the owner of a Major League Baseball team to back his idea with the enticement that 100 mph pitching talent will be found in India and that employing an Indian athlete in American baseball will sell a billion baseball caps and t-shirts as well as open up new fan-bases abroad. The owner, Mr. Chang (Tzi Ma), reservedly and skeptically commits financial support, but on a much shorter timeline than that proposed by J.B.
J.B. is off to organize his competition and is completely unprepared for the way management of a complex entertainment enterprise is handled in India. While everyone encountered is pleasant, well-meaning and able; business in Mumbai is not done in the same way it is conducted in the U.S. None the less, the pitching competition is a remarkable success drawing thousands of would-be pitchers and spectators. Ray (Alan Arkin) is an elderly retired, and tired, former baseball scout who is enlisted to help judge the “talent.” The talent, however, is minimal at best with cricket bowlers unable to throw a baseball either fast or accurately. All looks lost until two non-cricket playing athletes decide to try out for the one hundred thousand dollar prize and a trip to America to try out for a major league baseball team.
Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma of “Life of Pi”) and Dinesh Patel (Madur Mittal of “Slumdog Millionaire”) demonstrate enough potential to place first and second in the competition. Neither of these young men speak English, neither has ever traveled anywhere and neither is prepared for the culture shock they are about to experience. For that matter Bernstein is unprepared for the charming story of personal growth, learning, love and understanding that is about to engulf the three of them, Ray and J.B.’s guest house tenant, a young physician named Brenda (Lake Bell.)
“Million Dollar Arm” is a feel-good film that was literally “ripped from the headlines.” In 2008 the real J.B. Bernstein took his talent search to India and discovered Singh and Patel. Both men were given a crash course in baseball — a sport with which they had no familiarity whatsoever. They also learned the fine points of pitching, American life, pizza and English. The film highlights the amusing and serious dimensions of these sea-change level lessons and the personal development of all involved. Bernstein’s growth came in the form of understanding the importance of human relationships over business dealings. “Million Dollar Arm” is a delightful, family-friendly Disney production.
P.S. Rinku Singh has progressed through the Pittsburg Pirates farm system and lives in the United States. Dinesh Patel also played in the Pirates farm system and returned to India to continue his education and coach baseball.