JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is an LA based sports agent. Together with his business partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi), they both make a living but are largely reliant on legacy sports stars, now retiring. They remain vulnerable to their deep pocketed agency rival.
Desperately attempting to clinging to their star signing Pope Vanuatu (Rey Maualaga), the pair are perilously close to failing in their attempt to continue a more personal, smaller agency.
JB gets to thinking, what markets remain untapped to the lure of Major League American Baseball. Following an epiphany watching a mixture of cricket and Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent”, India is the obvious choice.
All Indians play cricket right? How hard could it be to find one that could throw a baseball accurately over 80mph?
With a backer behind him, JB says goodbye to his female Doctor tenant Brenda (Lake Bell), currently renting his pool cottage and sets out on a quest to find financial salvation, not realising more importantly, he needs to find himself. The current version of JB is a bit of a jerk, always looking for the angle and allowing life to pass him by, as he strives for the next score.
India is the perfect tonic, the very anathema to order and doing things on time. Meeting his local representative, he is assured everything is working like clockwork, apart from nothing actually being in place, all is perfectly well.
Eventually the talent contest commences and publicity for such an event is not hard come by, even in far flung villages and towns visited, word of mouth spreads like wildfire. The motley group, including mostly fast asleep talent scout Ray (Alan Arkin) and in-sourced “I will work for free”, trainee baseball coach and handy interpreter Amit (Pitobash), they eventually find pay-dirt
The raw talent in the form of Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma -“Life of Pi”) together with Amit, attempts to survive the usual fish out of water experience back in LA, which forms the basis of the story. Can they be ready to try out for a major league team within a year, the contract JB has entered into says yes. The marketing and television rights possibilities are enormous, if it works.
This is a Disney film that manages to largely hold back on the usual level of saccharine, playing the story straight with a modicum of cultural sensitivity and restraining form crude stereotyping. It is obvious the production spent considerable time “in country” and the sights, sounds and customs are brought believably to life without being overly airbrushed.
The story is largely formulaic but director Craig Gillespie does his best within the constraints of a “based on a true story” format. The film would fail without the right central character and Hamm inhabits the role in a totally believable way, exuding charm at every step and deploying just enough humour to make the film work. This will do no harm to his star appeal in the future, expect to see more of him soon on the big screen.
The young leads are both solid, their character arc is not that great, despite their change in circumstances, with Hamm doing the heavy emotional lifting. Overall the acting is uniformly good, including a minor turn from Bill Paxton as the US based coach.
Oscar winning musician AR Rahman of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame adds interest to the film’s soundtrack, especially the Indian set scenes.
A highly enjoyable sports film that can be enjoyed by both those interested in the sport and those who would not know a baseball bat from a cricket stump.