Nearly 20 years have passed since Clint Eastwood the actor has been directed by anyone other than Clint Eastwood the filmmaker, so when you see the name Robert Lorenz listed as the director of Trouble With the Curve, there’s hope that the “Man With No Name” might try to alter his old habits, or at least focus his acting skills in a way that might surprise us or himself. But it turns out that there wasn’t that much risk involved for Eastwood, since Lorenz has been working with the Hollywood legend as an assistant director or producer since The Bridges of Madison County in 1995. Lorenz’s by-the-numbers visuals and pacing could easily be mistaken for Eastwood’s patented no-frills directorial style.
Eastwood plays Gus, a crotchety longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves who doesn’t go in for all that newfangled computer nonsense when it comes to picking great players. His refusal to enter the 21st century has him on the outs with an obnoxious, tech-savvy, up-and-coming scout (Matthew Lillard) who has the ear of the team’s general manager (Robert Patrick); as a result, the venerable scout’s contract might not be renewed. Well into old age, Gus’ eyesight is starting to fail, so his old friend and work ally (John Goodman) convinces Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go help her old man when he has to travel to North Carolina to look at a big-hitting high-school senior the team may want to take with their first pick in the upcoming draft.
Mickey is a single, work-obsessed lawyer on the verge of making partner at her firm if she can win a big case that’s been assigned to her. But her sense of responsibility, along with her nagging desire to find out why her dad left her to be raised by extended family after her mother died, forces her to join Gus. Soon, she’s being hit on by another young scout (Justin Timberlake) and trying to pry the truth out of her father.
The movie’s title comes from something Gus and his daughter, who turns out to know as much about baseball as her old man, discover about the player they’re scouting. He can blast fastballs out of the park, but he has a hard time with a breaking ball, and it will only get worse against big-league competition. Sadly, the script by first-time screenwriter Randy Brown is the equivalent of a slow pitch right over the heart of the plate -- the actors can connect with it too easily. The performances are fine, but the screenplay doesn’t really work up any interesting drama or conflict until very late in the film, when we finally discover the secret Gus has been hiding from Mickey for decades. Even then, Brown figures out how to tie all of the various subplots together in a neat and tidy little bow before the credits roll.
A live baseball game is one of the more relaxing events you can enjoy. There are stretches where you don’t need to focus on the action, and instead you can appreciate the patterns mowed into the outfield grass, the endless blue of a clear sky, or the crisp, refreshing bite of a cold beer. Movies, on the other hand, need to absorb us completely. Long stretches of Trouble With the Curve make you wish you had other ways to occupy yourself.
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