Trouble with the Curve (United States, 2012)

September 22, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Trouble with the Curve Poster

Following his starring role in 2008's Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood decided to step away from appearing in front of the cameras. His self-imposed acting hiatus lasted four years. His decision to make a comeback at age 82 for Trouble with the Curve makes one wonder if retirement wasn't the best decision. This isn't the worst performance Eastwood has given in his 57-year career, but it's his least inspired in about a decade. His interpretation of Gus, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, is a walking, talking caricature - a cartoon of a Grumpy Old Man who goes a little soft at the end. This is a character we have seen a million times before and Eastwood brings little that's new or original to the part.

The movie as a whole can be labeled with the same criticism. There's not a single moment in Trouble with the Curve that doesn't follow the expected trajectory. It's as if screenwriter Randy Brown went to work on the script with a checklist in hand of how to develop a completely formulaic story about a crusty father and adult daughter finding one another during the twilight of his life. If you think it's going to happen, it probably will. This is a stale, safe movie that could have gotten a "G" rating if not for some naughty words.

Some of the baseball material is interesting, although only moderately so. We haven't ventured into Ron Shelton territory here. In a way, Trouble with the Curve functions as a repudiation of Moneyball, arguing that "old time" baseball scouting is superior to modern technology and the numbers-based approach favored by Billy Beane and his disciples. Most baseball men, however, will argue that the truth lies somewhere in between, but that doesn't make for a very good motion picture narrative. Trouble with the Curve shows how good old baseball know-how and dozens of years of experience trumps whatever a computer can spit out. To reinforce this, the chief booster of the iScouting approach, a suit named Phillip Sanderson, is played by Matthew Lillard with enough oil to quiet the squeakiest hinge.

Amy Adams does a little more with her role as Mickey than Eastwood does with his, although her character isn't written with any more depth. She's a 33-year old career woman married to her job as a high-powered Atlanta lawyer. Her six-day workweeks and long hours are about to pay off with a partnership when she gets a call from Gus's boss and best friend, Pete (John Goodman), who's concerned about his buddy's health. He wants Mickey to join her dad on a scouting trip to North Carolina. This would interfere with her partnership drive and she and Gus aren't at the best place in their father/daughter relationship, but she agrees nonetheless. Of course, we suspect where this is going: Mickey will eventually have to choose between Dad and Work. Any guesses what the outcome is?

The third spoke in the wheel is Justin Timberlake, whose Johnny is underwritten but necessary to italicize aspects of Mickey's development as a human being. Johnny is an ex-player-turned-scout who gradually worms himself into Mickey's affections because he's the only suitable distraction in the small North Carolina town where they're staying. There's minimal chemistry between Timberlake and Adams, a mostly-absent quality that would have made their relationship more credible and livened up their ho-hum getting-to-know-you scenes. Johnny's free-and-easy lifestyle stands in contrast with Amy's hyper-organized one. Of course, we suspect where this is going: Mickey will eventually have to choose between Freedom and Servitude. Any guesses what the outcome is?

One could argue that the world needs movies like this, where all that's necessary is to watch a two minute trailer to experience the whole thing. Trouble with the Curve exists for those who don't like being challenged by a trip to the cinema, who appreciate seeing an overly familiar story performed by different actors. It doesn't earn its multiple happy endings - none of the characters or relationships are sufficiently developed for that - but they have been committed to celluloid so we don't leave the theater as grumpy as old Gus.

The movie is bathed in artifice. Any time it hits a vein of human emotion (such as the finely understated scene with Gus at his wife's grave or the moment when he confesses to Mickey why he "abandoned" her as a six-year old girl), it inevitably tumbles down the well of contrivance shortly thereafter. Trouble with the Curve is the feature debut of Robert Lorenz, a frequent collaborator of Eastwood's (mostly as an assistant director and/or producer). Lorenz's style is competent, but he doesn't have a strong enough script to illustrate his capabilities. If Eastwood returns to retirement and doesn't re-emerge thereafter, this represents a disappointing epitaph for the career of a great movie star.

Trouble with the Curve (United States, 2012)

Director: Robert Lorenz
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, John Goodman, Robert Patrick
Screenplay: Randy Brown
Cinematography: Tom Stern
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2012-09-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1