Godzilla doesn’t make the most of its monsters, but Million Dollar Arm is a baseball crowd-pleaser says PEOPLE’s movie critic.
Here’s what to see and what to skip in theaters this weekend.
Skip This – Even Though We Both Know You Won’t
He may still stride the narrow world like a colossus, but Godzilla’s 60th anniversary update doesn’t give him much of anywhere to go. Bloated and often boring, the movie largely exists as an excuse to lay waste to a few cities – not an inherently bad thing for your big-budget summer action dollar – but then it cuts the monster fighting cruelly short. Isn’t behemoth-on-behemoth action the whole reason to buy a ticket?
Granted, everything starts well enough, with the crackly tension of an accident at a nuclear plant in Japan. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is a respected scientist who notices suspicious seismic activity increasing near the plant. He warns the higher ups to shut ‘er down before things go, well, nuclear, but he’s too late. The day comes at enormous personal cost to the husband and father, as it transforms him from a leader in his field into a pariah, spouting conspiracy theories about a government cover-up, even years later.
You know Joe is a kook because even his own son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), doesn’t want to deal with him anymore. To placate the old man (because really, how many times can you hear the same nonsense?), Ford goes with his father back to their ruined Japanese home, near the accident site. Naturally, they get arrested. Illogically, they’re taken directly into the plant itself, a site that supposedly houses the greatest secret the world has ever known, but apparently is open willy-nilly to random Americans stumbling around the Japanese Chernobyl.
It’s then that something awakens at the plant. No, not Godzilla – he’s off in the ocean, waiting to bring the fight to somebody his own size. But it’s something monstery and spoilery, and it’s exciting, because it means Joe is right. He isn’t a kook! Our faith in him wasn’t misplaced! Oh, but it’s too bad that we got invested, because the movie sidelines our guy almost immediately, sticking us with the bland, blank Ford instead.
It’s then that director Gareth Edwards starts to play Candyland with Navy bomb tech Ford, moving him like a plastic doll from the Peppermint Forest, through the Gumdrop Mountains and into the Molasses Swamp, on a quest to get home to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen).
Meanwhile, the beast that awoke in Japan is also on the go, and so is Godzilla, following its signal and preparing for a showdown. But what should we tiny humans do while we wait? Kill the new beast and Godzilla? Nay, says Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), a scientist who’s ostensibly in charge of all the world’s prehistoric menaces, and inherently knows that nature demands a monster battle. “Let them fight!”
Fight they shall, and you will love it. You will want more. You won’t get more. Just like the fantastically gifted Olsen won’t get to do much besides look worried. Just like the amiable Taylor-Johnson won’t register on screen, even when he’s doing something vaguely valiant. Just like playing an adorably irritating kids’ game isn’t the same as providing an audience with a plot.
Godzilla is a withholder. If you have a principled stance on the matter, you might consider withholding your ticket dollars. But we all know you want to see a fat dinosaur kaiju kick some enemy monster butt, no matter how lacking the rest of the movie.
See This, Though
Million Dollar Arm
Like boy bands and Doritos Locos Tacos, the fact that Million Dollar Arm is cynically engineered to bring joy to a mass audience doesn’t detract from its likeability.
The baseball comedy/drama stars Jon Hamm as J.B. Bernstein, a former sports super agent who’s now barely eking out an existence with his business partner, Ash (The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi). They need a big idea and they need it fast, so here it is: They’ll go to India, find a phenomenally talented cricket bowler or two, and turn them into major-league baseball pitchers practically overnight. Oh, and they’ll film the search as a reality show. (At this point I need to inform you that the movie is based on a true story.)
After an exhaustive search, J.B. and his scout, Ray (Alan Arkin), find a couple of promising kids, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal). Only things don’t go quite so well in America, as the boys have trouble adjusting, while J.B. merely barks orders and treats them like commodities.
But you already know this, because the edge-free Arm is also bereft of surprises, telegraphing every twist in the game. The curiosity is that you won’t really mind. Sharma and Mittal are so likable and Hamm so darned Hammish that it works. Add in Lake Bell as J.B.’s tenant, a doctor named Brenda who serves as his conscience in her spare time, and the (mostly) family friendly film comes together nicely. It’s an easy pitch, so go ahead, take a swing.