Remember that scene in Moneyball when Brad Pitt’s computer savvy GM sits around the table and basically puts all those old, washed up baseball scouts out to pasture? Well, consider Trouble with the Curve like the old fogeys’ revenge for that scene, with Clint Eastwood there to teach all those young whippersnappers what baseball is all about. Marking the first time since 1993’s In the Line of Fire that Eastwood is starring in another person’s film, he does his longtime producing buddy Robert Larenz a solid by snarling through his directorial debut. Trouble with the Curve isn’t truly a baseball film, but like most sports movies the game is used as a microcosm for the chin music life sometimes serves up.
The Dirty Harry days long since gone, Eastwood has settled into a comfortable “get off my lawn” orneriness in the latter stages of his career. He plays Gus, a legendary baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves who has discovered some of the game’s greats. But baseball is a young man’s sport, or so some believe, and the days of evaluating talent by using your gut and actually talking to a prospect are quickly fading in favor of complicated statistical algorithms and other things Gus doesn’t care about. His years on the road have done more than just put some hefty wear and tear on his body, but it’s also caused a gigantic rift with his daughter, Mickey(Amy Adams). A high-powered lawyer angling to be made partner, she’s got a ton of commitment issues thanks to Gus leaving her behind as a child. Despite all her anger, she’s got her father’s eye and knowledge for the sport, and when a family friend(John Goodman) asks her to join Gus on the road for what may be his final scouting mission to check out a hot prospect, she puts her career on hold in order to do it.
It’s obvious right from the start that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Mickey and Gus can barely be around one another without an argument breaking out, and old tensions flare up at the drop of a hat. But when the two are in their comfort zone, in the stands of some quaint minor league ball park, they make for an unstoppable pair and a fountain of baseball expertise. Guilt and regret color Gus’s acceptance of the arrangement, however, and he repeatedly tries to get Mickey to head back home. But she sticks around to help evaluate Bo Gentry, who many in the league are claiming is the next big thing. He’s also a jerk with a swelled ego, and Gus has a very different idea of his potential, which drives some in upper management crazy.We see the other side of the coin in Johnny(Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher that Gus scouted who did everything right, but was rushed into the spotlight too fast and blew out his arm. Now an up ‘n coming scout in his own right, Johnny eagerly needles Gus for advice while also forming a cautious relationship with Mickey. Timberlake, as usual, is charming and effective as a love interest. He and Adams have obvious chemistry that makes for some fun and sarcastic moments.
Eastwood, too, slips naturally into a role he can do in his sleep at this point. He’s never afraid to show the effects of age on his physicality, yet he stole has that edge that makes him a guy you wouldn’t want to contend with. Larenz, who has worked with Eastwood since 1995, has clearly learned a trick or two about using everything to its fullest extent. The baseball scenes are authentic and you can practically smell the old peanuts and new dirt of the stadium. Randy Brown’s script, on the other hand, never pushes the envelope far enough. Gus’s medical problems, such an issue early on in the story, are conveniently forgotten in favor of a neater conclusion. The writing simply isn’t funny enough or dramatic enough to make much of an impact other than as a simple crowd-pleaser. And maybe that’s all Trouble with the Curve was meant to be, but there’s the potential for so much more with this level of talent on the roster. All we get is a base hit up the middle when we should’ve had a grand slam.