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Sporty Hamm finds film feet in fish-out-of-water comedy

Apart from a strong supporting role as an FBI agent in Ben Affleck's excellent The Town, Jon Hamm hasn't made the expected transition from the TV success of Mad Men to real film stardom.

It's difficult to fathom this, given that he has the acting chops in addition to the presence and looks of a proper, old school movie star, but the gentle story of Million Dollar Arm might just be the one to break him to a wider audience.

Based on an unlikely but true story, the film could essentially be boiled down to a pitch that reads "Jerry Maguire meets Slumdog Millionaire". Hamm plays sports agent JB Bernstein, struggling to get his own agency off the ground when his business partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi) tries to convince him of the delights of the game of cricket.

One night JB finds himself flicking between coverage of India's premier cricket league and Susan Boyle's appearance on Britain's Got Talent when he has a lightbulb moment and concocts a scheme whereby he'll travel to India to audition youngsters with a view to securing them a professional baseball contract.

Accompanied by a crusty, eccentric coach (Alan Arkin, relishing the role), JB sets out on his travels and eventually decides that he has the two men he needs in the shape of Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma), but can the pair cope with the demands of moving from poverty-stricken villages to Los Angeles and win pro contracts into the bargain?

A likeable and agreeable movie, Million Dollar Arm offers us two sets of fish-out-of-water stories, first with JB's experiences in India and then when the competition winners reach Stateside. The travelogue aspects of the film stay just the right side of patronising and there's a nicely-worked romance between Hamm and Lake Bell as a doctor who is also his tenant. Even if baseball remains a mystery to you, there's a lot to enoy here.



(Thriller. Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Tony Barry, Tasma Walton, David Field, Ryan Kwanton. Directed by Ivan Sen. Cert 15A)

The Australian Tourist Board must be feeling very conflicted of late, with plenty of films being made in the country but very few of them making you feel like ever visiting the place.

A few weeks back we had the sight of drunken Brits on the rampage down under in The Inbetweeners 2, while only last week Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson starred in the violent post-collapse drama The Rover, which showed the Outback in all its bleak, alien savagery. Well, this week we're back in the dusty wilds with Mystery Road, a complex thriller that offers several interesting takes on contemporary Australia.

As with several stories set in the Bush, Mystery Road has the feel of a Western, as Aboriginal detective Jay (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his home community and is immediately faced with the murder of a teenage girl. Faced with barely-disguised racism from his colleagues and suspicion from his own community for joining the police force, Jay is that classic figure of a man alone, trying to do the right thing but faced with obstacles on all sides.

Despite being beautiful to look at - the closing shot is worth the price of admission alone - the problem with Mystery Road is that it leaves the viewer with a few too many loose ends to tie up. A couple of story strands are left hanging for no apparent reason and the sudden change of behaviour by key characters - not least drug squad officer Johnno (Hugo Weaving) and Jay's alcoholic ex-wife Mary (Tasma Walton) - just doesn't really add up. For all that, Aaron Pederson is thoroughly believable as the conflicted Jay and the blasted landscape is photographed so well you'll be sweating and swatting the flies away from your own face after 10 minutes.



(Thriller. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat, Logan Miller. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Cert 15A)

KELLY Reichardt's last film, Meek's Cutoff, had a great idea at its core, showing the hardships endured by the pioneers as they made their way west in the 19th Century, with particular attention paid to the plight of the female travellers.

It was a solid, gripping story with another great performance from Michelle Williams, albeit one all but ruined by the director choosing to sign off with an infuriatingly ambiguous ending.

Alas, Reichardt is up to the same again here, giving us a first half that follows three environmental activists - Jesse Eisenberg's Josh, Dakota Fanning's privileged Dena and Iraq veteran and ex-con Harmon, played by the under-utilised Peter Sarsgaard.

Driven by a desire to save the planet, the trio decide to draw attention to "the cause" by blowing up a dam, and it's in the preparation for this that the movie really works.

Eisenberg's Josh is a classic mumbling loner, Harmon more focused and therefore dangerous, while Dena is a little rich girl who clearly doesn't realise the potential seriousness of the action they're planning to carry out.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, Reichardt keeps the story alive as the three deal with what's happened very differently until an act of wild implausibility sends the film spiralling into silliness and a typically vague ending which only adds to the annoyance of an interesting premise squandered.

The three leads give their all, in fairness, but the arthouse "make up your own mind" approach to the finale ultimately scuppers their efforts.



The catacombs beneath Paris are the setting for As Above, So Below (Cert 15A, 2/5), the latest 'found footage' horror in which an archaeologist (Perdita Weeks) leads an expedition to find the Philosopher's Stone and winds up at the Gates of Hell.

Utter nonsense.

Nine years after the release of Sin City, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez give us a turgid sequel which no one really wanted.

Eva Green's femme fatale aside, this is a waste of everybody's time.