MILLION DOLLAR ARM (2014, Craig Gillespie)
Those of us devoted to MAD MEN think of Jon Hamm as a leading man: a marquee name, a big star, the anchor. So it’s always weird to see him in movies, because until now he’s played strangely small supporting roles, often brilliantly in comedies (BRIDESMAIDS, FRIENDS WITH KIDS) or uncomfortably in sci-fi or action (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE TOWN). It feels long overdue that MILLION DOLLAR ARM arrives, a vehicle for Hamm to take charge of, a formula film where his existence is the primary reason to see it. Even if at times, it feels like a made-for-TV movie.
Without Hamm, this is about as corny and cliched a piece of studio product you’ll get. Obstacles are introduced to be overcome, romances introduced in order to be requited, and life lessons to be learned in the end. Even when the messages are hilariously mixed (“The first time you had too much pressure; this time you just need to relax; now remember, an entire nation’s success is riding on this one pitch, so whatever you do, make them proud — but just have fun, no pressure”) they still get dumped onto the screen in a truckload of platitudes. Commit to things. Be yourself. Change yourself. Work hard.
But with Hamm, it livens up considerably. He plays his J.B. Bernstein less as a sports-centric Don Draper than as a Disneyfied Jerry Maguire: he’s slick but nervous, cranky but vulnerable. He can deliver a rant against cricket with brutal finality, but then show warmth and understanding with nothing but an eyebrow-drop. As a piece of feel-good family sausage this film may end up in a forgotten land of faux-inspirational true-life triumphs alongside THE BLIND SIDE, but as exhibit A in the rise of Jon Hamm from TV’s leading man to the silver screen’s major movie star, it ain’t half bad.