Disney throws another feel-good pitch with 'Million Dollar Arm'

Tue May 13, 2014 12:55pm EDT
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By Mary Milliken and Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the new Disney film "Million Dollar Arm," Jon Hamm is soaked in perspiration, not the alcohol-induced sweat of his "Mad Men" character Don Draper, but the kind that comes from filming a modest production in India in the hottest part of the year.

Despite working in conditions he calls "remarkably warm and challenging," the baseball tale with a global twist gave Hamm not only his first lead role in film but one that was decidedly more upbeat than the ad man that made him famous on television.

"I love the fact that it has a family component to it and it has redemption," said Hamm. "You leave the movie theater with a smile on your face. It's a nice alternative to my other on-screen persona, who is a little bit darker."

Hamm plays sports agent J.B. Bernstein who, in a desperate bid to drum up clients, goes to India to find baseball pitchers among the country's cricket-loving sportsmen. It's a real-life story that warmed hearts over at the Walt Disney Co.

By the standards of the studio known for big-budget blockbusters, "Million Dollar Arm" is a small film, with a budget of $25 million, a fraction of the $200 million it cost to make the soon-to-be-released "Maleficent" with Angelina Jolie.

But it is in a league of Disney movies - along with last year's Disney history piece "Saving Mr. Banks" and the upcoming sports drama "McFarland" - that enhance the Disney brand with an uplifting, against-all-odds story.

"We believe in great stories, both big and small, that depict values such as courage, ambition, hard work and family," said Dave Hollis, Walt Disney Studios' executive vice president of film distribution. "'Million Dollar Arm' is a great story that has those unique human themes throughout."  

With its nationwide release on Friday, "Million Dollar Arm" is expected to generate $15 million in ticket sales during its first weekend in U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Boxoffice.com. It's an alternative to the other film opening this weekend, the "Godzilla" remake distributed by Warner Bros. that should bring in $78 million.   Continued...

Cast members Jon Hamm and Lake Bell pose at the premiere of "Million Dollar Arm" at El Capitan theatre in Hollywood, California May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni