Trouble with the Curve

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/20/12 20:20:31

"Swing And A Miss"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Like many of you, I saw the now-infamous "speech" that living legend Clint Eastwood delivered during the final night of the Republican National Convention and like many of you, I felt any number of odd emotions while watching it. I felt confusion due to the fact that whatever point he was trying to achieve had clearly been overwhelmed by his decidedly strange presentation approach. I felt a little sadness at the sight of someone whom I have long admired--as a filmmaker, as an actor and as a person--taking a gamble in a arena outside of their usual comfort zone and stumbling badly in front of millions of people. Worst of all, I felt aghast from a professional standpoint because I knew that I would be reviewing his latest film, "Trouble with the Curve," in a decidedly unfavorable manner and that many readers would write off my criticisms as additional backlash from the speech even though I had seen the film and formulated that opinion the night before he hit the stage in Tampa. Let me assure you, however, that even if Eastwood's appearance had been an oratory miracle for the ages that schoolchildren would be studying for decades to come, "Trouble with the Curve" would still be a melodramatic bumble whose only obvious advantage is that it is so decidedly minor-league in every imaginable way that even Dave Kehr, the avowed Eastwood fanatic who supplied perhaps the only authentic rave that "Pink Cadillac" ever received, might have trouble giving it a glowing review.

Eastwood plays Gus, a scout for the Atlanta Braves and, perhaps not surprisingly, one of the best that the sport of baseball has ever seen. He is so good, in fact, that he can pretty much tell whether a player has what it takes to make it in the majors or not just from the sound that is created when he hits the ball with the bat. However, despite having discovered enough legendary players to fuel a number of all-star teams, the art of scouting is becoming increasingly dominated by people who make their decisions by sitting in front of their computers and analyzing statistics of the players instead of sitting in the stands and actually watching them play. Now with his contract coming to its end, the front office is considering letting Gus go and to make matters worse, his eyesight is rapidly deteriorating, a development that is becoming increasingly difficult to disguise. There are only two routes for an aging baseball scout with severe vision problems to take--retirement or employment with the Cubs organization--and neither one strikes Gus as being especially appealing and so, in a last-ditch effort to save his job--he heads off to North Carolina to check out a hot new prospect, a hot-headed slugger whom everyone is convinced is going to be an instant star. To help him out, a friend in the front office (John Goodman) calls on Gus's estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to accompany him on the trip and as the two go from ballpark to ballpark, the ever-cantankerous Gus is forced to confront the mistakes of his past while getting what may be his last chance to reconnect with his child.

The combination of baseball and Clint Eastwood seems like such a natural fit that it is surprising to discover just how badly "Trouble with the Curve" fails to connect--watching it is like watching a veteran slugger at the plate trying to hit a game-winning home run but whiffing it on three straight pitches. The key problem is that the screenplay by first-time screenwriter is such a turgid combination of soap opera hysterics, faulting plotting and plot developments that go absolutely nowhere that it feels like a first-draft screenplay that was accidentally launched into production with going through the rewrite process that it might have benefitted from greatly. The story plays like an unholy fusion of the earlier Eastwood efforts "Honkytonk Man" and "Million Dollar Baby" but unlike those films, which told melodramatic stories in a gripping and touching manner, this one feels so pre-programmed at every turn that it is impossible to work up any real feeling for it. The scenes involving Gus and Mickey, which should be the emotional heart of the film, are tiresome takes on familiar material and drifts off towards the end (in explaining the source of the father-daughter estrangement that we have been witnessing throughout via a gradually expanding flashback) into dealing with dark and unpleasant areas that it quite frankly hasn't really earned the right to use.

There is also a lot of screen time dedicated to the developing relationship between Mickey and another scout played by Justin Timberlake that goes nowhere and which clearly has been inserted into the material in order to attract younger female viewers who have little interest in either baseball or Clint Eastwood. Even the baseball stuff feels too cliched for its own good--instead of offering a defense of the old ways of scouting to serve as a rejoinder to all that "Moneyball" stuff, we get a front office sleaze (Matthew Lillard) who is such a creep that he might as well be twirling a mustache and an obnoxious player who, in yet another ridiculous development, gets his major comeuppance at the hands of a poor Mexican peanut vendor that he insulted earlier in the film. As for the cast, they are all watchable enough and play well off of each other but for the most part, watching Eastwood, Adams and Timberlake tackling material far beneath their talents as they do here is like getting a group of all-star ballplayers and then only having them play a quick round of catch--sure, they can do it well enough but it doesn't take too long to see that they are simply going through the motions after a while.

So what happened with "Trouble with the Curve"--why would a star of the stature of Clint Eastwood decide to grace such a weak project with his inimitable presence and why would rising stars like Amy Adams (who is seen to much better advantage in the current "The Master") and Justin Timberlake choose to sign on as well. All I can surmise is that Eastwood, who hasn't acted since 2008's "Gran Torino" and who has just come off of a trio of ambitious directorial efforts ("Invictus," "Hereafter" and "J. Edgar"), wanted to take it easy and just act in a film for the first time since "In the Line of Fire" nearly two decades earlier (not that he went too far off the reservation--director Robert Lorenz has worked with Eastwood as a producer and assistant director on numerous projects over the years) and chose something that wasn't too far out of his wheelhouse. As for Adams and Timberlake, they clearly signed on for the chance to work with a genuine screen legend--wouldn't you, given the chance? As an added plus, the nature of the project meant that they got to spend a few weeks hanging out in the world of baseball and that can be a powerful lure as well. All of these are perfectly good reasons for making a movie but in this case, they haven't resulted in the making of a good movie. "Trouble with the Curve" is a botch but if there is a bright side to it, it is in the fact that it is such a resoundingly inconsequential film in so many ways that it will quickly be forgotten as Eastwood and company move on to other and presumably better projects. After all, there is always next year.

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