Trouble With The Curve (2012)

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Joe Massingill, Jay Galloway, Scott Eastwood, Tom Nowicki, Bart Hansard, Bob Gunton, George Wyner, Jack Gilpin.

Director: Robert Lorenz
Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking.)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $TBD

Malpaso Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Written by: Randy Brown.
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★1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Marking Clint Eastwood’s first lead acting performance in a film he has not directed since 1993, Trouble With The Curve is a well-intentioned, if not a bland, surface level melodrama centering around a talent scout in the world of baseball, clinging to a career and a life that has hopefully not passed him by.  First-time director Robert Lorenz has a long and storied history with Eastwood, serving as his Second Unit or Assistant Director on several of Eastwood’s films.  While Eastwood exhibits comfort with this role and this story, the screenplay by debuting screenwriter Randy Brown buckles, veers into occasional forced sentiment, but is almost saved by good and assured performances from co-stars Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake.

Eastwood stars as Gus Lobel, a lifelong baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves who is quickly becoming branded, from younger and more recklessly zealous team executives, as a relic in a sport that formerly championed him as the best baseball scout in the game.  Widowed for more than 25 years, Gus lives alone and travels mostly through the Carolina territories, watching high school players play game after game after game.  He does not take notes, he watches and observes, and still religiously checks the morning newspaper box scores to find out all the information he needs to see.  While Gus has a fervent and loyal supporter in the organization, Pete Klein (John Goodman), Gus is largely viewed as a detriment to the club, who detests computers, technology, and the more advanced and statistical way of doing his job.  Despite this, Gus is given one last chance to prove his worth to the Braves, tasked with scouting Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), an arrogant, immature, bumpkin of a kid who is rewriting high school record books with his extraordinary hitting prowess.

As Gus prepares for his latest assignment, his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is working tirelessly to make partner at a prestigious Atlanta law firm.  Her relationship with Gus is acceptable enough, but the grumbling and cantankerous Gus has long since forgotten how to connect with Mickey on a deeper, emotional level.  With a daunting presentation coming along for Mickey and her partnership resting on its success, Pete asks if Mickey can accompany Gus to the Carolinas to check on him, worried that Gus’ declining vision may be a gateway to additional concerns.  Against her initial instincts, Mickey assures the attorneys that she will be ready for the presentation and joins her father for a scouting trip that not only puts the sport’s most sought after high schooler in the crosshairs, but also reconnects Gus with an old discovery of his own, flamethrowing pitcher-turned-scout for the Boston Red Sox, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake).

Trouble With The Curve sets up its story largely as one would expect.  Eastwood is feisty, independent, cranky – essentially the same character we have seen him play for the last several years.  When called upon to tap into emotions, he can still get there, but Eastwood is less an actor and more a personality on screen now, so how much you can tolerate of that one-note performance will define how far you can go with the film and his character.  Amy Adams is great, as always, and overcomes Randy Brown’s formulaic designs of her female-attorney-fighting-for-equality stereotypes by infusing Mickey with an endearing mix of charm, drive, and vulnerability.  Again proving that she can have chemistry with anyone, Adams makes her potential romance with Justin Timberlake intriguing, with Timberlake equipping himself just fine, adding depth of character and broadening a role largely designed to essentially validate Mickey’s existence in the film.

While Robert Lorenz restrains himself with his direction, Randy Brown’s screenplay is riddled with problems.  The characters are very thin in their design and creation, so Adams, Timberlake, and even Eastwood at times, must elevate off of the page, holding everything together just enough to make the obvious seem a little less obvious and the overreaching moments somewhat palatable.  Offering next to no surprises in its story, Trouble With The Curve cannot help itself at times, introducing and then discarding some interesting angles to Gus’ character, and essentially presenting the young executives as nothing more than antagonists who, with those personalities, could never have assailed to the heights of upper management with a Major League Baseball club.  Trouble With The Curve balances good with bad from one cluster of scenes to the next.  Adams and Timberlake are better than they should be, overachieving to a certain extent, while Eastwood is really only able to give what he can.

When the melodramatic shifts occur later in the film, the film verges on collapse but there is just enough here that I actually found myself invested with the characters and where the story was headed.  I can find and recognize a lot of problems with Trouble With The Curve and why it routinely misses the strike zone.  To its credit though, like its irascible lead character, the film labors along, works just enough of the corners to keep you intrigued, and will likely be a crowd pleaser in the moment.  However in hindsight, Trouble is one-note and instantly forgettable, offering simply too much distance between my heart and mind for me to give this a full-throated recommendation.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • Trouble With The Curve may frustrate cinephiles with its melodramatic tone and contrivances, but this is a film that a lot of older audiences will love a lot.
  • There are legions of folks who love the Clint Eastwood grumble-show and many lines popped laughter in my screening.  Really Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake are best in show here though.
  • Less about baseball and more about opportunities in life, Trouble With The Curve may resonate with those who are bound by the notion that sometimes simpler is better.
NO
  • The screenplay is riddled with tonal shifts, bland cliches, and predictable bends and turns.  You always can tell how things will play out and the moments written for vindication and satisfaction are muted as a result.
  • The Eastwood performance is polarizing.  He can only do one thing anymore and it is not going to be funny or interesting to a lot of people hoping Clint can tap into a more charismatic and personable former actor.
  • At the end of the film, the loose ends tie up so wonderfully that you feel a bit cheated; that the 111 minutes you spent with these characters and their situations were nothing more than a play for cheap emotional connections.
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