By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s an old-school movie about an old-school scout.
The effective double play combination in the baseball-themed drama, Trouble With The Curve, is an edgy father-daughter relationship and another old-vs.-new debate about our national pastime.
Clint Eastwood stars not opposite an empty chair but as Gus Lobel, a veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves, old-school in the same way that those scouts were who sat around the table jawing with Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane in Moneyball.
He’s soon to retire from a job that’s been a lot more difficult for him to handle ever since life threw him a curve and his eyesight started going — eyesight that now, like a long fly ball caught on the warning track, is nearly gone.
This development Gus has understandably kept from the organization’s hardball-playing general manager (Robert Patrick) and exec (Matthew Lillard), who finds Gus’ approach to the scouting game far behind the times.
His boss and buddy, Pete (played by John Goodman), asks him to take on an assignment, a recruiting trip to check out a prospect in North Carolina, that will allow him to prove to the team that he can still function productively.
To make sure Gus can succeed, Pete requests that his daughter Mickey, a lawyer on the fast track played by Amy Adams, accompany him.
Gus is against it, but he reluctantly agrees.
It doesn’t take long for Mickey to see how much her father’s vision has deteriorated. And it doesn’t take long for the bumps in their past relationship to surface.
On the trip, Gus reunites with Johnny, played by Justin Timberlake, a younger Boston Red Sox scout who’s scouting the same prospect, who is forever grateful that Gus scouted him when he was a pitcher, and who takes an immediate romantic interest in Mickey.
For octogenarian Eastwood, this is his first on-screen role since 2008’s Gran Torino and his first acting job for a director other than himself (since In the Line of Fire) in nearly twenty years.
He still knows how to get laughs in what is a variation on his curmudgeon specialty, which he’s particularly good at even if it is a mite too familiar. And cantankerous Adams matches him bark for bark, bite for bite, and rejoinder for rejoinder as a daughter who has inherited her father’s spirit and spit, and has appropriate romantic chemistry with Justin Timberlake, who contributes a characteristically sturdy reading of his more-than-peripheral character.
First-time director Robert Lorenz, who has been director Eastwood’s producer and/or assistant director for years, worked from a script by debuting screenwriter Randy Brown that aims to demonstrate the flip side to Moneyball’s high-tech insights while painting a portrait of old age and acknowledging some aspects of life, not just in baseball, that we may be abandoning in the name of modernity far too soon.
The director sometimes belabors the obvious, broadens his villains unnecessarily, and refrains from swinging for the fences, but he at least keeps the film engaging and endearing throughout.
Do you have to be a baseball fan to enjoy Trouble With The Curve? No, but you’ll savor more references and taste extra condiments on your hot dog if you are.
So we’ll issue an intentional walk to 2½ stars out of 4 for this respectable and enjoyable father-daughter dramedy played out in the bleachers and on the diamond. Trouble With The Curve doesn’t hit out of the park, but it’s at least a clean single up the middle.