One expects a sports movie to have plenty of cliches, but “Trouble With the Curve” is so loaded with them—they pile up hilariously in the last reel—that by the end it collapses under the weight. The picture does give Clint Eastwood the opportunity to trot out his old codger routine again, and Amy Adams the chance to do the thespian equivalent of a soft-shoe routine with him. It also provides Justin Timberlake with a role in which his essential amiability actually comes through. But in the end it’s a formulaic reconciliation tale that relies far to heavily on Eastwood’s ability to carry some awfully moth-eaten material, and the pedestrian direction of Robert Lorenz (a long-time assistant to the actor-director) accentuates the script’s weaknesses rather than trying to conceal them.
Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a crotchety old scout for the Milwaukee Brewers who refuses to consider retiring despite the fact that his eyes are failing. Despite the uncertainty of team owner Vince (Robert Patrick) and his unctuous yes-man assistant Phil Sanderson (Matthew Lillard), who prefers depending on modern computer-based draft decisions, Gus’ old front-office pal Pete Klein (John Goodman) insists that he be given the responsibility to scope out top prospect Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill). Concerned that Gus might not be up to the task on his own, Pete suggests to his daughter Mickey (Adams)—an ambitious lawyer angling to be made partner in her firm—that she take a few days off and go serve as daddy’s backup.
Mickey’s initially resistant—she and Gus have a rather strained relationship, reinforced by his surliness and her resentment that after her mother’s death he handed her over to an uncle to raise (it’s ultimately revealed, in a flashback that uses a clip from an early Eastwood movie, why he did so). But she goes to North Carolina anyway, and there they alternately bicker and bond while Mickey’s romanced by Johnny (Timberlake), a scout for the Boston Red Socks. Not only that: he was once one of Gus’ draft picks, though he quickly threw out his shoulder and ended his career. Now he’s aiming to go into the broadcasting booth.
The beats in “Curve” are, despite the title, straight-line pitches, and hardly fast balls. Underneath the gruffness, Gus is a doting daddy, and though she’s still sore at him, Mickey’s a loving daughter. The cutesy-poo romance between charmingly smart-alecky Johnny and Amy is a forgone conclusion despite the obligatory speed-bump in the last act. And both father and daughter outwit their office rivals, Gus taking down the obnoxious Phil (played by Lillard with his usual overdose of smarm) and Amy her competitor for the partnership, Todd (James Patrick Freetly), who tries to take over a big case while she’s way.
And the baseball subplot—which is all that the game itself really constitutes here—is sewn up in a ludicrous fashion that’s forecast by the immediate characterization of Bo as a preening boor who, despite his Babe Ruth-level batting prowess, has to be shown to have an Achilles’ heel by the picture’s end. Gus detects his weakness—it turns out, very implausibly, that all he needs is good hearing rather than tolerable vision—but it’s left to Mickey, truly her father’s daughter, to prove her dad is right. And the way she does so is with another player who, ridiculously, comes out of left field—figuratively if not literally. Actually he emerges, you might say, from the peanut gallery.
The essential trouble with “Curve” is that the hallmark of Randy Brown’s script is implausibility wedded to coincidence, over which a thick coating of sentiment has been added. (Call it a cinematic spitball.) Eastwood does his best to add some spice to the mix, but his shtick is beginning to show its age in every respect. And though Adams and Timberlake exhibit a bit of youthful spunk, the only other element that works is the collection of other old-timer scouts who act as a sort of chorus in the barroom and bleachers scenes. Otherwise the supporting cast is either wildly over the top (like Lillard and Massingill) or sleepily subdued (like Goodman, hiding behind a prominent moustache). On the technical side the movie is okay, though the presence of such Eastwood repertory contributors as cinematographer Tom Stern, production designer James J. Murakami and editors Gary D. Roach and Joel Cox doesn’t give it any particular visual distinction. The same can be said of Marco Beltrami’s nondescript background score.
In the end “Trouble With the Curve” can be described as the anti-“Moneyball.” But it’s really no contest. The earlier picture scores over this one by a lopsided margin.