Based on a true story, this is one of those relentlessly uplifting Disney movies that mixes comedy and emotion to inspire and move the audience. Thankfully, it also has a very smart screenplay by Tom McCarthy (Win Win) that draws out some resonant themes while tackling cross-culture issues with wit and honesty. This makes it easy to identify with the sparky characters who are trying to reinvent themselves.
Sports manager JB (Jon Hamm) certainly needs a reinvention. He has lost all of his high-profile clients and now needs to find the next big thing. Perceived as washed-up, he has some difficulty convincing someone to fund his crazy plan to stage a talent competition in India to find baseball talent among the local cricket players. With the help of his easily distracted assistant Aash (Aasif Mandvi) and cantankerous ex-coach Ray (Alan Arkin), he narrows the candidates down to two potential stars: Rinku and Danesh (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal). After JB brings them back to Los Angeles, along with over-eager interpreter Amit (Pitobash), renegade coach Tom (Bill Paxton) has to whip them into shape to see if they can attract interest from the big-league teams.
While the film continually threatens to indulge in smiley culture-clash slapstick, McCarthy's script continually grounds the action in the characters, who emerge as fully rounded people who are engagingly unpredictable. The cast is earthy and natural, anchored ably by Hamm as a likeable guy who remains self-absorbed even though he's desperate, and who takes a long time to learn his rather simple lesson. His chemistry with Lake Bell (as the plain-talking tenant in his pool house) is superbly messy. And ace scene-stealers Mandvi and Arkin bring plenty of comic relief to their hilarious roles.
Meanwhile, Sharma, Mittal and Pitobash find surprising layers of interest in their characters, hapless but charming young men who offer a fresh eye on America's disarming obsession with wealth, which often comes at the expense of human interaction (the only reason baseball officials are interested in JB's idea is because it potentially gives them a billion new fans). Not that this is a serious issue movie. Director Craig Gillespie tells the story with a winking sense of humour that lets events unfold effortlessly. Even the scenes in India are light and relaxed. It's difficult to sustain such a bubbly tone over an overlong 2-hour running time, but it's great to see a sports-themed film that has bigger things on its mind. And one that keeps us entertained from start to finish, whether or not we care about baseball.
Run time: 124 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th May 2014
Box Office USA: $36.4M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 81 Rotten: 51
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriter: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Jon Hamm as J. B. Bernstein, Bill Paxton as Tom House, Lake Bell as Brenda Paauwe, Suraj Sharma as Rinku, Aasif Mandvi as Ash Vasudevan, Madhur Mittal as Dinesh, Pitobash as Amit, Alan Arkin as Ray Arkin, Bar Paly as Lisette, Al Sapienza as Pete, Tzi Ma as Chang, Allyn Rachel as Theresa
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