In the wake of his “empty chair” routine at last month’s Republican National Convention, a lot of left-leaning media types speculated that Clint Eastwood had lost not just his fastball, but also his mind. I beg to differ. I thought his deadpan delivery was hilarious and his criticisms of Barack Obama valid. But as much as I love Clint’s squinty-eyed punditry, his latest pitch for a mitt is – to quote Bob Uecker – just a bit outside.
It’s called “Trouble with the Curve,” but it should have been dubbed “Trouble with the Script,” given how badly rookie writer Randy Brown looks taking feeble swings at everything from sabermetrics to family dysfunction in a baseball movie with too much on its plate. He’s even worse in the clutch, despite having power hitters like Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and Eastwood in the lineup to protect him. Yet he never strikes out, thanks largely to his teammates, who consistently hustle down the line to turn weak ground balls into base hits.
Holy cow! You might even find yourself rooting for Clint’s crusty old baseball scout, Gus Lobel, to steal second chances with Adams, displaying remarkable patience as his resentful, workaholic daughter, Mickey (as in Mantle), almost as hard as you’re pulling for Mickey to get onboard with Timberlake’s amorous ex-Red Sox phenom, Johnny Flanagan. Whether or not you opt to swing at what they’re offering depends largely upon your ability to foul off a barrage of clichés being flung by Brown and another rookie, director Robert Lorenz.
Like Gus, you scroll down the clipboard checking off the filmmakers’ skills – or lack thereof – as they empty their repertoire of senile old man and lonely career woman routines. They also lack focus, as they crowd the plate with competing stories matching Adams and Eastwood and Adams and Timberlake. It’s far from big-league material, but Brown and Lorenz possess enough intangibles to give “Trouble with the Curve” heart, not to mention a disarming sense of humor. They also have Clint Eastwood, the Ted Williams of acting. He used to hit .400, but even now, as age takes its toll, Eastwood can still get around on the fastball. He proves it time and again in turning geriatric Gus into a lovable lummox, capable of heartbreaking sincerity one moment (warbling “You Are My Sunshine” beside his long-dead wife’s grave) and Dirty Harry-like menace the next (tossing a drunken barfly against the wall and holding a shattered bottle to the red neck’s throat).
His best scenes are opposite Adams, who gives as good as she gets, playing his concerned but bitter daughter. Although, physically, she looks more like his grandchild, Adams sells their father-daughter dynamic convincingly, as Mickey takes a leave from her job as a high-powered Atlanta attorney to join her partially blind dad on what could be a career-saving mission tracking the nation’s top hitting prospect through the scenic backwaters of North Carolina. She’ll be the eyes complementing his keen ears, as they determine the fates of both the kid and Gus’ boss, the Atlanta Braves. But first they’ll have to learn to stop squabbling, a war we discover that has been stalemated for nearly three decades. They also must learn to deal with Timberlake’s rival scout, Johnny, once one of Gus’ most priced signees, now forced to trade his glove for a stopwatch after overuse turned his prized arm into mush. As a representative of the Red Sox, Johnny also has his eye on the vaunted prospect (newcomer Joe Massingill), but his other eye is increasingly trained on the gorgeous, ginger-haired Mickey.
Page 2 of 2 - The antagonistic sparing that ensues between them is as old as “It Happened One Night,” but the two actors are so charming together, their chemistry so potent, that you forgive the rampant predictability that constantly threatens to swallow them whole. The same holds true for Adams and Eastwood. There’s never any doubt their characters will mend their rift in the bottom of the ninth. But the two oft-nominated Oscar contenders go deep often enough to leave you obliged to stick with them, even when they’re clearly struggling with the “Curve.”
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking.) Cast includes Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake. Directed by Robert Lorenz. 2.5 stars out of 4.