While harmless and well intentioned, “Trouble with the Curve” tells a story that isn’t worthy of the talent involved – star/producer Clint Eastwood first and foremost, but also Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Mathew Lillard, and even director Robert Lorenz, who produced several of Eastwood’s masterful directorial efforts, including “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” Given the strength of this creative team, defined in part by Oscar nominees and/or winners, it’s puzzling no one picked up on the fact that they were making such a conventional movie. The plot, while good hearted, plays like a rundown of uplifting drama clichés and is so predictable that, unless you’re new to movies like this, you should be able to figure out what will happen even before entering the theater.
The central character is Gus Lobel (Eastwood), an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Macular degeneration is slowly but surely robbing him of his eyesight, although he doesn’t trust doctors and insists that he doesn’t need help from anyone. He’s stubborn, cantankerous, and old fashioned, believing that newfangled gadgets like computers cannot accurately measure a player’s instincts on the field. When it comes to his personal life, he has been emotionally stunted ever since the death of his wife nearly thirty years ago. He’s virtually estranged from his daughter, Mickey (Adams), who channeled her resentment at being sent away as a child into a successful career as a lawyer. She’s on the verge of being made a partner in her firm, a position a rival is also lobbying for.
The plot involves Gus being given one last scouting assignment before his contract goes up for renewal. Given his age and his unwillingness to adapt to current business trends, it’s possible he will be out of a job within the next three months. Mickey reluctantly tags along at the request of her father’s boss and friend, Pete (Goodman), who knows something is wrong with him physically and believes he needs to be looked after. Gus is himself not too thrilled with the arrangement; he just wants Mickey to forget about him and move on with her life in Atlanta. We already know that this isn’t rejection so much as it is his way of wanting his daughter to have all he couldn’t give her. But convention dictates that she initially doesn’t see it that way, and therefore must spend the rest of the film trying to get him to lower his defenses and actually communicate with her in a way that doesn’t involve baseball.
Together, they scout a top prospect in North Carolina, completely unaware that the peanut vendor, who lives in a nearby motel with his poor family, has a decent pitching arm. It’s gradually revealed that Mickey’s first love is baseball, not law; not only does she know scores of facts and figures, she also possesses the same scouting instincts her father relied on for years. During the trip, we meet Johnny Flanagan (Timberlake), a former baseball player who was scouted by Gus some years earlier before his pitching gave way from overuse. He now works as a scout for a rival team, although there’s a broadcasting position he has his eye on. Mickey becomes his love interest, despite the fact that she has a man waiting for her back in Atlanta. That, coupled with an upcoming presentation that will determine her future in the firm, will repeatedly test her relationship with Johnny.
If you can’t see where any of this is going by now, you obviously haven’t seen as many movies as I have. You might be better off. It will take you a lot longer to become jaded. It’s not so much that we’re watching a bad movie; it’s technically competent, decently cast, and adequately performed. It’s just that we’re watching a movie that has been made a thousand times before – and, in all likelihood, will be made a thousand times again. There’s nothing innately with telling the same story multiple times (God knows I’ve recommended more remakes and romantic comedies than most would in a lifetime), although perhaps it would be best to space them out a bit. At the very least, filmmakers shouldn’t have to rely on such high caliber actors, who can surely apply their talents to more ambitious projects.
If, however, you truly do have your heart set on seeing this movie, rest assured that no harm will come of it. Even I couldn’t resist the final act, which, were it not for the lack of a big game, would fit right with the final acts of most inspirational sports dramas. And although Eastwood has remained very active in Hollywood as a director, seeing him perform once again was a welcome experience. Nevertheless, there was nothing about the Gus Lobel character that said, “Only Clint Eastwood could have taken this role.” Any qualified actor could have taken it to more or less the same effect. From now on, he’d be much better off steering clear of movies like “Trouble with the Curve.” He should instead focus on movies like “Gran Torino,” which allow for more original plotlines and feature characters that are infinitely more complex and compelling.