Clint Eastwood hikes up his pants yet again to play an aging curmudgeon who’s every bit as “Get off my lawn” as Gran Torino‘s Walt Kowalski, but instead of racism he’s battling his deteriorating eye sight and his poor parenting skills. As Gus, a scout for the Atlanta Braves, Trouble with the Curve finds Eastwood grumbling his way through a film where he has no time for the “Interweb” or his daughter for that matter. His job is on the line as something called computers (heard of these?) are making scouting baseball talent easier than ever before. Yes, it’s old school vs. new school. It’s a schlocky anti-Moneyball that turns into a father-daughter story on its way to an overwrought ending. In short, it’s insufferable.
Trouble with the Curve features the most impressive cast ever assembled for what is essentially a Lifetime movie. Eastwood is joined by Amy Adams, playing his daughter Mickey (named after the baseball player of course), who’s on the fast track to a partner position in her law firm. As if that wasn’t enough, she now has to juggle her job and her personal life once she’s called in from the dugout (see what I did there?) to accompany her father on an upcoming scouting trip to North Carolina.
Mickey has been called in on the suggestion of Pete Klein (John Goodman), chief of scouts for the Braves and long-time friend of Gus, who’s worried about the old guy and doesn’t want to see him ousted from the organization. An early scene featuring Goodman, Matthew Lillard and Robert Patrick as representatives of the Braves organization — Goodman representing old school, Lillard as the number-crunching new school and Patrick as the guy with the final say — is one of the most staged scenes I’ve seen all year. The conversation between the three and the choices of shots from first-time director Robert Lorenz are so static and uninteresting they may as well have just used the table reading it’s so bad.
The whole film, in fact, places so much emphasis on tired dialogue involving the battle between computers and stats taking over where on-the-ground human evaluation used to be the life blood of the process. Gus is getting old and he can’t see so well and Lillard wants to prove just how worthless Gus is by showing stats and statistics on an upcoming high school prospect everyone is gunning for. With the second pick in the draft, the Braves are hoping the Red Sox pass so they can get this guy and they’ve sent Gus to find out if he’s the real deal. After all, the stats suggest he’s a franchise player, but of course the title of the film suggests otherwise.
Speaking of the Red Sox, wouldn’t you know it, their scout is a young kid Gus once scouted and signed with the Braves, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). Johnny worships Gus and, obviously, is immediately attracted to Mickey. Johnny was injured and had to leave the game before hitting his prime and now regrettably serves as a scout with an eye on the broadcasting booth. To practice, he randomly shows up to watch random little kids play sandlot baseball games and pretends to announce using a digital recorder. If you’re wondering, yeah, it’s a little creepy.
The drama plays out as Mickey only wants to connect with her father, Gus has a hard time showing his feelings, Johnny wants to hook-up with Mickey, Lillard wants Gus out and the prospect they are looking at is a slovenly ass, interested in his future payday and uninterested in his teammates. Yeah, go figure, he’s not a team player. Again, something your fancy computers can’t tell you.
Trouble with the Curve moves from one cliched beat to the next as Gus and Mickey argue and countless times Mickey storms out of the room, upset with her father’s unwillingness to talk out their problems. All of this devolves into one of the most hackneyed endings you’ll see all year as a nearly two hour slog of melodramatic events, bickering and nonsense is summed up in a matter of five minutes.
I’m hardly interested in dolling out any praise, but I’m having a hard time faulting the actors. First-time screenwriter Randy Brown gives the talent nothing to do but recite rote dialogue and I couldn’t help but wonder if he actually typed “Gus grunts” as a form of expression because when Eastwood isn’t whispering under his weathered growl of a voice, he’s grunting his dissatisfaction with most situations. What’s that, you want to talk? GRRRRRR. Timberlake is Timberlake, clearly serving his purpose in a scene where he goes for a late night swim with Mickey and a female in my audience made audible her satisfaction as he took off his shirt.
Adams comes out relatively unscathed, but her character is so “one note” it’s hard to offer up much appreciation. When you give a good performance in a bad film with a character that is done a disservice by the script is it actually worth praising? It’s easy to pat her on the back in recognition of a job well done, but it doesn’t avoid the fact the film itself is so tedious and disconcerting I could hardly stand a minute of it.