Ah, Clint, it's good to have you back. The opening scene of Trouble with the Curve finds the 82-year-old grumbling his way thought a particularly troublesome morning piss, and say what you will about him playing his first scene opposite his uncooperative penis, it's an improvement over an empty chair. Trouble marks Eastwood's first acting appearance since Gran Torino four years ago, and it unsurprisingly finds him in full-on old coot mode. That's a little limiting, but let's face it: nobody does it better, from the glowering to the growling to the looking through narrowed eyes at all the whipper-snappers who don't know a damned thing about a damned thing.
In this case, the primary object of Clint's derision is Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard), who is ready to put aging baseball scout Gus (Eastwood) out to pasture. He's not entirely off--Gus is going blind, and eyesight would seem an important quality for a scout to have. But Phillip doesn't know that; he thinks the old guy's time has passed because he's not on board with using computers as a scouting tool to crunch numbers and compare stats. "Anybody who uses computers doesn't know a damn thing about this game!" Gus insists, and that's one of the film's many moments that play as weird shots at Moneyball. This movie started to make me feel a little defensive about liking that one so much, which I guess is a feeling sports fans get all the time?
Gus's boss Pete (John Goodman) implores his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go with him on a big scouting trip to the Carolinas, where he's checking out a hot prospect for the upcoming draft. Mickey and her dad don't get along so great; they've got all kinds of leftover abandonment issues from the period following her mom's death, and if you think they're gonna go the whole movie without getting aired out, I'd like to talk to you about a bridge that's up for sale dirt cheap. Mickey is a high-powered lawyer up for a partnership if she lands a big account, and of course she has to prepare for the client presentation at the very time she's babysitting her dad, and how is that gonna turn out? And would it also surprise you to learn that she's emotionally distant and unattached, but she meets a handsome charismatic young scout (Justin Timberlake) who just might get her out of her shell?
The point is, Randy Brown's screenplay is not exactly a model for storytelling ingenuity; you've seen most of these scenes before, in other (better) movies, and just when you think they've run out of tired clichés, yep, there's a skinny-dipping scene. Look, it's not that you can't wring some fresh life out of an old plot. It's that everyone seems so aware of how inevitable the resolutions are, which makes the film strangely rudderless. There's no real momentum; we all know where we're going, and director Robert Lorenz (Eastwood's frequent producer and assistant director) doesn't seem to be in much of a rush to get there. The second act basically amounts to a slow march towards foregone conclusions.
Still, if the screenplay is well-worn and the direction is uninspired, every single performance in the movie is a gem. Adams and Eastwood are believable together, and there's thankfully some nuance to their relationship--it's not all arguing and resentment, and her fondness for the days she spent accompanying him on the road, going to ballgames and hanging out in bars, seems genuine. (That also saddles her with a couple too many scenes of slack-jawed yokels acting surprised CUZ HOLY COW IT'S A GIRL BUT SHE CAN TALK ABOUT THE BASEBALL AND SHOOT POOL.) Timberlake is thoroughly charming, and their chemistry is so good, you wish they weren't trapped in such a predictable subplot. Goodman is as natural and easy as ever--seriously, this guy's a national treasure--and the supporting cast is loaded with great character actors like Chelcie Ross, Ed Lauter, Bob Gunton, and George Wyner. Lorenz gets a good piece of relaxed acting out of Eastwood, and gives him a helluva good exit to boot. Trouble with the Curve is too pedestrian to recommend with any kind of enthusiasm. But the warmth of the performances are reason enough to stick with it for a while when you flip past it on TNT some Sunday afternoon in a couple of years.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.