ROTTENTOMATOES.COM LOST LOVE Eastwood shifts from empty chairs to graves in Trouble With the Curve.
ROTTENTOMATOES.COM
LOST LOVE Eastwood shifts from empty chairs to graves in Trouble With the Curve.

4/5 stars

Maybe I just love baseball too much, but I was tempted to bestow five stars upon Trouble with the Curve based on the nervous anticipation that the film creates during the pitching scenes. Then I realized that I should probably reserve that honor for a film that doesn’t turn out to be as conventional as this one.

Robert Lorenz makes his directorial debut after years of serving as Clint Eastwood’s assistant director and producer, and rookie screenwriter Randy Brown provides the safely played, though enjoyable, script.

In his first role in almost two decades in a movie that he didn’t direct, Eastwood shines as the rugged Gus Lobel, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Back in the day, he was the best at his job — and, presumably, he still is — but one particularly arrogant colleague eyeing an eventual move to general manager doubts that Gus’ traditional views still have merit in light of the recent creation of a number of useful, technologically created statistics. In some ways, this movie seems like a counterargument to last year’s Moneyball, insisting that instinct and feeling play a larger part in the game than numbers do. Even so, Gus isn’t necessarily advocating for himself and his theory, as he’s suffering from macular degeneration but stubbornly refuses treatment to improve his vision. He knows that his hunches may not be the most reliable anymore.

Amy Adams gives an impressive performance as Gus’ daughter Mickey, a work-obsessed lawyer who is pressured into being her dad’s eyes on a scouting trip to North Carolina. Although it seems improbable that one person could be so professionally successful at a relatively young age and yet still be able to retain every single fact there is to know about the history of baseball — not to mention be able to dominate in a game of pool or slug a home run with ease — Mickey is not without her faults. Still resentful of her father for passing her off to relatives after her mother died young and later shipping her to boarding school, Mickey has commitment issues that only a guy as handsome and charming as Justin Timberlake could cure. Timberlake radiates a certain energy and playfulness as Johnny Flanagan, an old recruit who threw out his arm in the majors. He hopes to become a broadcaster for the Red Sox.

I was half expecting Adams and Timberlake to break out in perfect song as a throwback both to Adams’ Enchanted days and to Timberlake’s boy-band era before everyone realized Timberlake has more talent than his previous lip-syncing in music videos suggested. They do not.

Of the cast, Eastwood spits out the best lines, highlighting Gus’ ornery spirit well. It’s obvious, however, that Mickey has inherited that same bite. In fact, the father-daughter interplay between Eastwood and Adams is undoubtedly the heart of the film. In an early scene, Gus asks Mickey if she needs money to buy nicer clothes, a question that earns him a much-deserved eye roll from his daughter, who just told him that she might be promoted to partner in her hotshot law firm. When she explains that she had just finished a yoga class, Gus responds, “You do that voodoo?” A few of Eastwood’s signature growls make their way into the final cut as well.

The plot, which suffers from a black-and-white dynamic that leaves the film with clear-cut bad guys and good guys, could stand for a little more realism, but maybe the point is to bring audiences back to old-fashioned, feel-good cinema. Anyway, the film features Clint Eastwood, Justin Timberlake, and baseball. What more could an American ask for?

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