Mark Reviews Movies

Trouble with the Curve


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Lorenz

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Joe Massingill

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 9/21/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 20, 2012

Clint Eastwood's frustrated-old-man shtick is far more entertaining and endearing than it has any right to be. Perhaps it's because we're still getting accustomed to the fact that Eastwood, the movie star whose career and screen persona have been defined by rugged and steely-eyed characters, is, by almost every standard, legitimately an old man. At 82, he is still working (Let us all hope to be as driven and productive at that age), and if his performance as a haggard but still-kicking baseball scout in Trouble with the Curve is any indication, there is no reason for him to stop. The man is still a vital screen presence.

He has embraced his age and is perfectly comfortable with portraying the pitfalls of growing old.  The movie opens with Eastwood's Gus Lobel having problems evacuating his bladder, but he endures with a sly sense of humor about it. Gus' body may be failing him, but he has no intention of letting that stop him.  It's partly out of stubbornness that he continues the daily grind of his job—researching and watching promising players for the professional baseball franchise for which he worked for decades—but it's also partly out of love for his work. The rest is the fact—only alluded to—that, without his career, he would have nothing else in his life.

This isn't entirely true, though. Gus' daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), whom Gus named after his favorite ball player (Mantle, obviously), is still part of his life, even if it is in more transitory terms. After his wife died when Mickey was 6 years old, Gus had no idea how to raise her; she spent a year with her uncle and then a long stretch at boarding school. Even to this day, Gus visits the grave of his wife and asks for help connecting with his daughter. She is dedicated to her work at a law firm where she hopes to make partner, and much is made of her inability to hold a steady romantic relationship.

Their bond is tenuous, and their past has left a few too many scars for the relationship to improve much. Still, when Pete (John Goodman), Gus' boss and old friend, tells Mickey that her father's eyesight is deteriorating (and that Gus refuses to do anything about it), she has enough love for the man to make a trip to North Carolina—just in the middle of a big case that could seal her promotion—to keep an eye on him. His task is to watch a high school baseball player (Joe Massingill) and determine if the kid is ready for the majors. Gus' contract is up in a few months, and Phillip (Matthew Lillard) wants the team's general manager (Robert Patrick) to let Gus go. In Phillip's mind, the future of scouting rests in statistics and computer programs—not watching games and gut feelings.

Screenwriter Randy Brown has no interest in that debate, insisting the argument is on the side of good, old-fashioned instinct. Gus has been doing this job for so long that he no longer actually needs his sight; when Mickey asks how he can tell a player's hands slip on the bat without seeing it, he says that such a thing is a "pure sound" that, one day, she'll recognize, too. Despite the occasional moments of nostalgia for the sport, baseball is no metaphor for life here; it's simply baseball—something (perhaps the only thing) that father and daughter can share.

The screenplay's insight into the relationship between Gus and Mickey is limited, partly due to how little the two want (on his side) or feel permitted (on hers) to discuss it. Much is left a mystery until the end of the second act, leaving director Robert Lorenz to tease us with flashes of Gus' memories of a galloping horse and a shed, where, ultimately, every aspect of their relationship is neatly summed up by his feelings of failure as a father. Brown is keen on wrapping the story's conflicts—of both plot and characters—in a tidy bow; the third act plays out like a shooting gallery in which every conflict is knocked down one at a time by some new revelation or fulfillment of foreshadowing.

Eastwood and Adams make the most of little, and the scenes of them doing the work at hand are amusing. The screenplay, though, undermines its central relationship with the introduction of Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher, current scout, and hopeful baseball announcer. He and Mickey go through the motions of a shaky-starting romance: He's charmingly aggressive about it; she, as we already know, is skeptical about letting another man into her life after her experience of constant disappointment with her father.

The respites with Johnny only serve to remind us how underdeveloped Gus and Mickey's history is and to hold the real heart of this story at a distance (not to mention keeping Eastwood's enjoyable, curmudgeonly performance offscreen for stretches of time). Trouble with the Curve is pleasant but far too slight in terms of characterization and conflict to make much of an impact.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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