Clint Eastwood trades the empty chair for live people as the focus of his grumpiness in Trouble with the Curve, a strange blending of Gran Torino and Moneyball.
The angry, grizzled junkyard dog that is Gus (Eastwood) is probably nearing the end of his career as a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. They don’t know that he’s losing his eyesight but they do know that he refuses to use a computer and analyze prospective players with software that turns their stats into guesses about their future success. For this, comer Phillip (Matthew Lillard) is hoping to push Gus into early retirement but Gus’ longtime buddy Pete (John Goodman) wants to help his friend hang on. He senses something’s wrong with him and doesn’t want Gus to blow a scouting trip to North Carolina to assess the skills of Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill). Since Gus won’t tell him what’s up, Pete turns to Mickey (Amy Adams), the daughter with whom Gus has a prickly relationship. A driven lawyer, Mickey is on the verge of making partner but after a talk with Gus’ doctor, she decides he needs help and travels to North Carolina with him to help him consider Bo. From childhood experiences on the road with Gus, Mickey isn’t a bad judge of skill herself and, reluctantly, Gus decides to use her as his eyes and ears.
Because you can’t have this kind of movie without some kind of love interest, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) also shows up to scout Bo. A former baseball player that Gus once scouted for the Braves, Johnny is now working for the Red Sox and hopes that if he’s able to win the team Bo, he’ll be headed to a job as an announcer. He is a fan of Gus but is an even bigger fan of how hot the heel-wearing but tough-talking Mickey is.
Any Project Runway fans in the audience tonight? (Reality TV competitions about sewing or cooking are my sport.) If you’ve been watching this season, you may think of Ven Budhu when you watch Eastwood in this movie — or, at least, I thought about Ven Budhu when watching Eastwood. Ven started off the season promisingly. His clothes were nicely tailored and he used this origami-ish folding method with his fabric in a way that made the pieces look more elegant and expensive. He used this technique a lot. Eventually, Heidi and Michael Kors and the marvelously not-impressed Nina Garcia were all “enough with the origami flower.” Show us something different, they kept saying. Well, spoiler alert, they won’t be saying that anymore. (And, since Ven turned out to be a whiny, unimaginative fat-head, reviled by fans for being a jerk to a perfectly nice woman who let herself be dressed by him during one of the episodes, nobody feels bad about. But I digress.)
Grizzled old grump is Clint Eastwood’s origami flower. He has been growling with ever greater intensity at least since Million Dollar Baby. That boxing coach was curmudgeonly but then his Gran Torino widower was that amount of gravelly-voiced, scowl-y faced grumpiness squared. Now, we’re at angry-old-bear to the third power. In the next movie, he’ll have to literally bite someone to top himself.
And, like the lovely draping and intricate folding of the Ven twisty neckline, I absolutely can enjoy this shtick from Eastwood. Even when he is so aggressively “grrrr” that he is a parody of himself, I still sort of enjoyed it. I laughed, out loud, which may or may not have been what the movie was going for but I enjoyed it. But, pull yourself away from a debate with imaginary versions of the president, Mr. Eastwood, because it’s time for you to show me something else. Or don’t, that’s cool, but know that you are headed in to The Expendables territory (and, yes, I would love to see Eastwood in the next Expendables, which I will totally buy a ticket now for if that helps it get made). Add this verging-on-caricature performance to the thoroughly predictable plot and you have a rather unimpressive story-telling. (Not to give too much away but there are satisfying endings and then there are wrap-ups so tidy you almost feel cheated for having been made to sit through all that came before.)
Timberlake and Adams don’t blow the doors off anything with their performances either but I did find myself liking them — liking the little details they put in to their characters and liking the tiny microscopic spark they had together. Timberlake’s guy with an edge of desperation and Adams’ balance of hardness and fragility were ncie. The scenes with just them were just as enjoyable as the scenes where Eastwood filled the screen with his bark. C+
Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking. Directed by Robert Lorenz and written by Randy Brown, Trouble with the Curve is an hour and 51 minutes long and distributed by Warner Brothers.