Film review: Million Dollar Arm | Night Moves

Jon Hamm as JB Bernstein and Lake Bell as Brenda, JB's neighbor and friend watch the boys pitch at USC. Picture: Ron Phillips/Disney
Jon Hamm as JB Bernstein and Lake Bell as Brenda, JB's neighbor and friend watch the boys pitch at USC. Picture: Ron Phillips/Disney
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Million Dollar Arm (PG)

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Suraj Sharma

Star rating: ***

Inspired by the true story of a struggling sports agent who set up a competition to find Major League baseball stars amid the untapped talent pool of India’s cricket-obsessed youth, Million Dollar Arm may check every underdog sports movie box en route to its uplifting finale, but it proves a canny vehicle for Jon Hamm to demonstrate his leading man appeal on the big screen. Cast as JB, a sort of real-life Jerry Maguire whose instinctual deal-before-people shallowness belies the genuinely good guy he has the potential to be, Hamm’s great at being just cynical enough to make JB’s redemption worth rooting for, particularly as he brings raw talent – in the form of Madhur Mittal and Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma – to America to try out for the big leagues. Lake Bell adds some welcome spice as his love interest.

Night Moves (15)

Directed by: Kelly Reichardt

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard

Star rating: ***

With the likes of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt has specialised in creating veneer-stripped portraits of American society’s voiceless margin dwellers. Night Moves sees her continue this pursuit in more plot-driven fashion, with a thriller about a trio of eco-activists who conspire to blow up a hydroelectric dam. The world “thriller” is used advisedly though: once again deploying her minimalist, matter-of-fact shooting style, Reichardt strips the premise of all melodrama to focus on the psychological drama as it plays out across the faces of her protagonists, particularly the two most naive members of the group: a transient organic farm hand, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and college drop-out, played by Dakota Fanning. Both are great (as is Peter Sarsgaard, cast here as the third member of the group), but as the film strives to play out the reality of the situation it conforms to a predictable – albeit downbeat – conclusion that can’t help but undermine the emotional complexity of the performances.

Let’s Be Cops (15)

Directed by: Luke Greenfield

Starring: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr, Rob Riggle, Andy Garcia

Star rating: **

As a pair of civilian best friends who decide to shake up their going-nowhere lives by pretending to be cops, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr fail to revive the buddy-cop genre with anywhere near the laughs of last summer’s Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy team-up The Heat, much less the inspired, self-referential lunacy of the Jump Street films. With Johnson’s character a failed high school sports star, and Wayans Jr a struggling videogame designer, the film doesn’t even fulfil the basic tenet of the genre by giving them mismatched personalities to spark off. Needless to say, laughs are thin on the ground.

Mystery Road (15)

Directed by: Ivan Sen

Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten

Star rating: **

A brilliantly executed final shoot-out and some gorgeous cinematography can’t save this plodding, plot-hole strewn Australian Outback-set procedural. Nor can an initially intriguing setup that pits a newly promoted Aboriginal detective (Aaron Pedersen) against the buttoned-down, but never expressed, racism of his colleagues as he investigates the murder of an indigenous girl left for dead in a drainage tunnel by the side of a road. The problem – aside from the flagging pace – is that the ensuing story spins off in too many directions for writer-director Ivan Sen to keep track of the myriad plot strands. As such, the “mystery” part of Mystery Road becomes increasingly irrelevant.