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Published: Friday, 9/21/2012

'Trouble With the Curve' misses the sweet spot


Trouble With the Curve has considerably more issues with clichés than it does with any kind of pitch. This father-daughter drama is a pedestrian examination of cardboard characters moving through the routine of a formulaic story woven within a baseball film. The saving grace -- in fact, the only reason to recommend it -- is a starry line-up of dependable actors.

Clint Eastwood, fresh off a pop culture drubbing for his mano-a-chair onstage performance at the Republican National Convention in August, plays what we can now safely assume is himself off-camera: a grump. In this instance the likable curmudgeon is named Gus who, dagnabbit, has his heart in the right place. Gus is an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. While other scouts and, really, the entire world have evolved with technology, dear old Gus is keepin' it real by rejecting computer algorithms and sticking to what his eyes, heart, mind, and decades of experience tell him. Trouble is, his eyesight is failing him.

It's a bad time for Gus to be losing his vision since his contract is nearly up, meaning the Braves can either re-sign the old coot or let him retire. His boss and longtime friend Pete (John Goodman) wants him to stay with the team, and he sends Gus to North Carolina to scout a high school phenom who would be the team's first pick of the draft, the second overall, if the Boston Red Sox don't take him first. But a member of the Braves front office (Matthew Lillard) is determined that Gus fail, which will lead to Pete's demotion and an opportunity to advance.

To ensure that Gus makes it to the games, Pete enlists the aid of Gus' daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams). She's a hotshot lawyer looking to become the first female partner in the firm. She also has competition for the promotion from a sycophant male attorney.

Justin Timberlake, right, is among many reliable actors featured in the movie. Justin Timberlake, right, is among many reliable actors featured in the movie.

At this point Trouble With the Curve is throwing several dramatic plots at the audience, but no love story. And then comes Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a Red Sox scout sent to assess the phenom for himself. Johnny has history with Gus, who scouted him as a young pitcher with a wicked fastball. The Braves traded Johnny to the Red Sox, who promptly wore out his arm and ended his career prematurely. Gus still feels bad about Johnny's trade, and offers to help him. For some reason the Red Sox are sending a young and rather inexperienced scout to help determine their first-round draft pick.

Trouble With the Curve is not wanting for plots, it just doesn't know what to do with them other than stick to proven methods.

The film was written by Randy Brown in his first major screenplay. Perhaps because of that, Brown plays everything safe. He has created interesting characters, but he doesn't know what to do with them. Meanwhile, director Robert Lorenz does nothing more than competently stage the film. Lorenz has been a first unit director on several of Eastwood's films and coproduced many of Eastwood's most recent movies, so maybe the actor-director took the role as a favor, because this certainly isn't a film worthy of capping his long career in front of the camera. Then again, if Eastwood is sticking to the curmudgeonly roles as has been the pattern, maybe he should retire from acting anyway. Better that than to see him march out the same character with minor tweaks in personality for more film roles.

Adams finds that sweet spot between tough and independent and fragile and insecure. Timberlake is playing Timberlake — at least, as we might imagine him to be at parties: a witty, womanizing nice guy. He and Adams have chemistry onscreen, but their relationship is uninteresting and formulaic -- a problem plaguing the entire movie.

Hidden by the film's cliches, there is a good movie waiting to be discovered. But Trouble With the Curve fails to deliver.

Trouble with the Curve

Directed by Robert Lorenz. Written by Randy Brown. A Warner Brothers release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material, and smoking. Running time: 111 minutes.

Critic’s rating: **

Gus ..................................... Clint Eastwood

Mickey .....................................Amy Adams

Johnny ..............................Justin Timberlake

Pete .....................................John Goodman

Contact Kirk baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.









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