Eastwood And Adams Make "Curve" A Worthy Diversion

When it comes to the movies, predictability can be a fickle thing. Like the satisfaction of hearing a familiar pop song or the comfort of a worn-out blanket, inevitability within a film can provide genuine warmth. At other times, predictability can be read as triteness – a slap in the face to an audience, a suggestion that they’re not worthy of being challenged. “Trouble With The Curve” is a little bit of both, a decidedly fluffy film that walks a tightrope between gentle, congenial Americana and outright schmaltz. The strength of the performances keeps the humdrum narrative on life support, but an absolutely dreadful ending leaves a bitter aftertaste to an otherwise pleasant affair.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Clint Eastwood stars in a film he didn’t direct, handing over the reigns to his longtime assistant director, Robert Lorenz. Eastwood plays Gus, an elderly baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Gus is having increasing problems with his eyesight, awkwardly depicted by some blurry (and unnecessary) first-person shots, and he’s in danger of losing his job. One of his co-workers, the always affable John Goodman (as Pete Klein), vehemently supports Gus and his particular brand of scouting – the idea that computers can’t and won’t replace real-live human beings as stewards of the game. Matthew Lillard plays Phillip Sanderson, another of Gus’ co-workers – a slimy Theo Epstein-type who wants baseball’s old guard put out to pasture.

In many ways, “Curve” is the antithesis of last year’s “Moneyball,” but both paint loving portraits of good baseball men who persist in the face of probable failure. Interestingly, both have daughters that should be bigger parts of their lives than they are. Amy Adams plays Gus’ daughter, Mickey, a brilliant but aloof 33 year-old who’s about to make partner at her law firm. At the urging of Pete, she follows her father to North Carolina to keep him company as he scouts the next big thing for the upcoming draft. Justin Timberlake shows up as Johnny, a former big league pitcher turned aspiring scout for the Red Sox, and love interest for Mickey. Johnny’s likable enough, but it’s hard to buy Timberlake in the part. He’s not the earthy “good ol’ boy” that the role suggests and he doesn’t show much range with the character.

The rapport between Eastwood and Adams is the backbone of the film and it’s pretty fantastic. Their relationship is believably strained because the latter displays the same vivacious stubbornness that Clint is known for. Amy Adams is absolutely the reason to see this film, and I’m not sure I’ve thought that about anything she’s been in, no matter how good her track record. As for Eastwood, at this point in his career, his facial expressions range from “there’s a fly in my ointment” to “I have severe irritable bowel syndrome,” but it doesn’t matter because his raspy-as-ever voice communicates every word with an unrivaled succinctness. He’s playing a much more laid back version of his “Gran Torino” character, but the message is the same: “I’m old and I’m pissed off.”

Unfortunately, the reason for that crankiness isn’t handled nearly as well as it was in “Gran Torino.” The aforementioned third act is a disaster – a pleasantly laid back film turns into a sitcom as various plot threads are tied together in rousingly stupid fashion. The villain of the piece is treated as though he was just found out by Scooby Doo and his gang (coincidentally, Matthew Lillard is involved) and our heroes unite to save the day in a manner that suggests no one involved in the film has any idea how baseball works. Still, “Trouble With The Curve” is a picture of small pleasures, and a lunkheaded finale isn’t enough to ruin all of the good will it earns through its first two acts. This is certainly passable entertainment, and since I’ve avoided all baseball clichés thus far, I get a couple freebies – “Curve” comes perilously close to a third strike, but ultimately, it’s a solid seeing-eye single. And sometimes that’s enough to win a game.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: September 21, 2012
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Robert Lorenz
Screenwriter: Randy Brown
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard, Scott Eastwood, Joe Massingill
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking)