A solid base hit, but far from a home run.
The H-Bomb: Clint Eastwood stretches his range as an actor by playing a character we’ve never seen him play before, a cantankerous old codger named Gus, who for decades has worked as a scout for the Atlanta Braves. He has recruited many great players over the years, but unfortunately, he’s not getting any younger. His eyesight is starting to go, and The Braves’ management has lost confidence in him, and is seriously considering not renewing his contract when it runs out in three months.
Gus has a trip to North Carolina coming up, in which he’s supposed to check out some wunderkind slugger who knocks every pitch that’s thrown at him right out of the park. All the teams are eyeballing this kid, but The Braves really, really want him. Gus’s colleague and friend, Pete (John Goodman), knows that this trip will be the deciding factor as to whether or not Gus will still have a job in three months time. So, Pete goes to Gus’ daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), and tries to talk her into accompanying him to North Carolina.
The trouble is, Mickey has her own professional life to contend with. She’s a lawyer with a major law firm, and the outcome of a case she’s working on will determine if she’ll become a partner with the firm. There’s also the issue that, while Gus and Mickey are not exactly estranged, they’re not exactly close, either. Mickey’s mother died when she was very young, and Gus sent her away to live with her uncle when she was six, and he hasn’t shown all that much interest in her since.
Still, Gus is her father, and her conscience does get the better of her, so she decides to join him on his trip. And, as you may have already surmised, during Gus and Mickey’s time together, past pains resurface, old wounds are re-opened, fences are mended, and a father-daughter bond eventually starts to form. Oh, and Justin Timberlake shows up, as well.
If you’re hoping Trouble With the Curve is going to throw you a curve, then you’re going to be disappointed, as it is exactly what the trailers make it look like; a fairly likeable, if slightly bland, dramedy that’s easy enough to watch, but that offers nothing in the way of surprises (not that it has to) and doesn’t leave much of an impression afterwards. Go in with moderate expectations, and you’ll be just fine.
You may have noticed the hint of sarcasm in my opening sentence about Eastwood stretching his range as an actor, because he doesn’t . . . at all. This is Clint doing the same grumpy old man thing he’s been doing for years now. It’s still good for a few laughs, and it’s nice to see that he has a sense of humor about getting older– perfect that this is coming out at a time when his already infamous RNC speech is still fresh in our minds and has some wondering if he‘s gone completely senile. He never converses with any empty chairs here, but he does briefly speak to an empty car seat, as well as sing to a gravestone . . . okay, I’ll admit, that’s a little odd. Anyhow, it‘s fun to watch him snarl and grumble (and stumble) through the part, although I was under the impression Gran Torino was supposed to be his swan song as an actor.
Adams is her typical stellar self and plays off of Clint quite well, especially as the film wears on, when her uptight, professional woman veneer fades away and her hard drinking, hotdog eating, baseball loving inner tomboy comes out. Timberlake plays Johnny, a former star pitcher who was recruited by Gus back in the day, who is now himself working as a scout for the Red Sox. Naturally, he becomes a love interest for Mickey, in a romantic subplot that I honestly think the movie could’ve done without. Timberlake is fine in the role (the guy’s turned into a pretty decent actor, I must admit), but I just didn’t think the character was all that necessary. He takes emphasis away from the father-daughter dynamic, and just makes an already overlong movie even longer.
Rounding out the cast are Goodman, who gets some nice moments to shine as Gus’ one true friend, and Matthew Lillard, who is surprisingly terrific as an overly ambitious, douche-faced Braves manager who thinks that Gus is completely over the hill, and can’t wait to push him out the door. He was deliciously slimy, and I loved his every second on camera.
Director Robert Lorenz, who has worked as an assistant director on a number of Eastwood‘s films, does a solid, if somewhat pedestrian, job on his debut feature. He shoots the film in a straightforward manner, much the way Eastwood himself would, that gets the job done. If there’s anything I would take away from Lorenz, it’s that he does let the pacing become too leisurely in spots. The film never becomes boring, it just needed a little more tightening in the editing room. Also, some of the more dramatic scenes between Gus and Mickey became a tad repetitive. At one point when Mickey was berating Gus over abandonment issues, I thought to myself, “Didn’t they already have this argument?”
If there’s one story thread, aside from the obligatory romance, that I wish was left out entirely, it’s one that turns up late in the game that involves the accidental discovery of another ball player who may have major league potential. It’s a fairly pivotal story point, but it feels tacked on, underdeveloped, and plays out in a way that just isn’t all that believable. Screenwriter Randy Brown really should have tried a little harder to work it into the story in a more natural, and plausible, fashion.
But, all faults aside, Trouble With the Curve is a modestly entertaining little movie that certainly is nothing amazing, nor again, particularly memorable, but for any fan of cranky old Clint (and who isn’t), it’s probably worth catching a matinee showing.