‘Trouble With The Curve’ too corny and predictable despite solid performances
Directed by Robert Lorenz
Written by Randy Brown
For someone who puts on a brave face about the subject or would rather ignore it, Clint Eastwood is obsessed with aging. In movies like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, Eastwood portrays, for all intents and purposes, a version of himself who’s facing down the Grim Reaper. He’s been Clint Eastwood as a grumpy boxing trainer and Clint Eastwood as a grumpy retired factory worker, a grizzled elder statesman who tries with all his mental might to act as if he’s a much more youthful man, but whose physical well-being begs to differ. With his leading role in Trouble with the Curve, Eastwood plays Clint Eastwood as a grumpy old baseball scout who doesn’t want to admit he’s getting too old for this racket. Like Eastwood, Trouble with the Curve is a reliable, if far too corny piece of would-be Americana.
Eastwood is Gus Lobel, an Atlanta Braves scout whose impressive career—he got players like Dale Murphy and Tom Glavine drafted—doesn’t erase the fact that his eyesight is fading rapidly, due to glaucoma. What’s more, his unwillingness to engage with technology to gain knowledge on players’ statistics makes a young rival (Matthew Lillard) view him as a dinosaur. With his contract up soon, Gus may have just one more shot to prove his relevance to the team, a trip to North Carolina to check out a potentially huge prospect. Due to his erratic, near-senile behavior, his boss (John Goodman) convinces Gus’s estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to tag along and make sure he’s physically able to do his job. A fellow scout and former find of Gus’s (Justin Timberlake) soon catches Mickey’s eye, compounding the forced father-daughter bonding.
Trouble with the Curve is perfectly intent on being exactly what it sounds like. Surprises do not abound in Randy Brown’s script, which falters most obviously when invoking popular culture. (References to Dr. Phil and Desperate Housewives land with a thud.) Otherwise, the story and its structure feel exceptionally ordinary. If you consider it a surprise that Mickey and Johnny, Timberlake’s character, may become romantically linked by the story’s end, you may well be surprised that the sky is blue. Seeing as the film is content to be predictable, and director Robert Lorenz (who’s worked as an assistant director and producer on many of Eastwood’s directorial efforts) never injects technical style or panache into the proceedings, it’s on the actors to make this film more than passable.
Amy Adams is the standout, entirely because she’s Amy Adams. A filmmaker would have to work very hard to make Adams look bad, and Lorenz doesn’t intend to put in that effort. Mickey is a prickly woman with a dark past, but Adams is such a beaming presence that you’re fine with her being so gruff. Timberlake, who’s fine as Johnny despite just being the love interest, gets the lucky position of wooing her throughout the film; in the first hour, this amounts to him basically getting her to flash a smile. Adams and Timberlake are charismatic enough as actors to generate a decent level of chemistry in their courtship scenes. However, the flaw of Brown’s script is that we’re not interested in these characters. We’re not watching Mickey and Johnny begin a tentative romance. We’re watching Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake bounce off one another. They do so charmingly, but they have no characters to embody, just empty traits.
And so it goes for Clint Eastwood, who is fine as Gus, because Gus is Clint Eastwood, not an actual character. A serious issue with Gus is that many of his supposedly endearing qualities are actually pretty reasonable criticisms of his work ethic. Gus’s belief that technology and in-depth statistics aren’t the answer for picking a good baseball player is, for example, especially foolhardy and backward-sounding to anyone who realizes the power the Internet can wield for good; suffice to say, Gus would not be a fan of Moneyball. Frustratingly, Trouble with the Curve makes this stubborn avoidance a heroic ideal. Eastwood’s all too happy to embody this stereotypically grumpy notion.
Trouble with the Curve is cinematic oatmeal. Have no misconceptions about what you’re getting; the movie will deliver just what it promised. In essence, the movie is awash with unabashed schmaltz, boasting two magnetic young performers doing what we’ve come to expect they’ll do. Trouble with the Curve wants very badly to not just be a sincere celebration of baseball as America’s pastime, but a hat-tip to the old school while ignoring any serious value the new school may offer. The movie is, sadly, too much like Gus and Clint Eastwood, holding onto the past, not wanting to look forward, and being unwilling to go quietly into that good night.
— Josh Spiegel