Trouble with the Curve Directed by: Robert Lorenz Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, John Goodman, Joe Massingill Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: September 21, 2012
PLOT: An aging baseball scout (Eastwood) losing his vision receives scouting help from his daughter (Adams). He receives some competition from a rival scout (Timberlake) also interested in the same prospective player (Massingill).
WHO'S IT FOR? If you like watching Clint Eastwood in movies, then yes, he's certainly in Trouble with the Curve; if you like watching him do great work, go watch Gran Torino again instead. And though it might sound odd, it's important you know your baseball. If you don't, Curve is going to offer no explanation.
EXPECTATIONS: Eastwood's history of letting his friends direct him has been spotty (Any Which Way You Can, not withstanding). What kind of magic would first-time director, longtime Eastwood producer Robert Lorenz be able to pull off with such a seemingly thoroughly American film?
Clint Eastwood as Gus: In a role that completely misunderstands the reasons why his cranky character in Gran Torino was so effective with audiences, Eastwood reduces his power of presence to simply "showing up." Giving him little importance to the story (except for the wisdom he mutters at others), this is a watered-down version of "Clint" that treats his previous acting role as if it were a one-man rendition of Grumpy Old Men. Here, Eastwood is misused to provide generic statements about old age, in a role that he is both bigger and better than. To the legend's credit, there is one moment in a graveyard that has true tenderness. Of course, director Lorenz steps into this scene, with the emotional subtlety of Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum, and ruins it. Score: 6
Amy Adams as Mickey: Proving to be her own type of natural talent, Adams is able to spruce up a couple of forced moments and prevent from feeling entirely emotionally false (such as when she randomly springs her past of therapy over breakfast with her dad). In other parts, Adams is powerless to the cheesiness of the story, allowing herself to become surface-level like everyone else. Score: 5
Justin Timberlake as Johnny: Timberlake's tendency to play harmless tools fits well within this particular script; he can certainly provide face-value charm to such a face-value story. In a film of higher standards, perhaps even one directed by Eastwood, his easygoing presence would be a glaring fault. Though he still isn't showing he's able to do much beyond this (his turn in Social Network is still his best), his cheesy charm is fine in Trouble with the Curve. Score: 5
Rest of Cast: Trouble with the Curve has a cast roster full of bland characters, with supporting actors as simplified as those with smaller roles. Matthew Lillard plays a smug, computer-usin' whippersnapper, while John Goodman works his jolly angle as a longtime supporter of Gus'. Joe Massingill's sought-after Bo Gentry offers a generic representation of when flashiness overrides bits of talent. Score: 4
TALKING: Many of the movie's centerpiece "Clintisms" capitalize on making a joke out of his character's stubborn and independent attitude, turning these character expressions awkwardly into comedic one-liners. At a very low value, some of these lines are certainly funny (and yes, worth not spoiling). If you're paying ticket price just to watch a post-Gran Torino Eastwood scowl through some tough old man mutterings, you'll get a fair amount of "Clintisms" from this otherwise wholly unsatisfactory film. Score: 5
SIGHTS: Director Lorenz proves visual incompetency with plenty of ugly shots in the film, demonstrating a lack of understanding when it comes to composing a lively image (such as with scenes in Clint's kitchen) or making poignant use of wide space (a dull expansive shot of a graveyard). Cinematographer Tom Stern (who, yes, has been Eastwood's impacting go-to for the last decade) should have skipped out on this paycheck/favor to Lorenz, as his polarizing shakicam work in The Hunger Games is comparably more visually comprehensible. Score: 3
SOUNDS: Marco Beltrami slips in wimpy motifs that fail to achieve the simplistic prettiness Eastwood can pull off with one hand in his own film scores. "On My Way" by the Neighbors plays during the closing credits, marking the the most egregiously corny song to be featured on an Eastwood movie since the barfworthy "Colorblind" in Invictus. Score: 3
BEST SCENE: Gus' speech to his wife's tombstone felt like a moment in which Eastwood was really trying. But, then he sings "You Are My Sunshine," which is forgivable. Of course, it gets worse from there.
ENDING: "Well, I guess I'll be taking the bus."
QUESTIONS: How hands-off was Eastwood with this project, for which he acts as producer? Why would he choose this script to add-on to his acting filmography, especially since Gran Torino was such a legendary turn? What could he have wanted to say here that he didn't already in Gran Torino?
REWATCHABILITY: A lot of movies starring Clint Eastwood have high re-viewing value simply because Eastwood is in them. Especially considering the weak meet-cute scenes between Adams and Timberlake, this isn't one of those movies.
It is preposterous for this film about baseball players to champion the idea of natural talent over flashiness, as Curve becomes an example of just that. There are filmmakers like Eastwood, who can patch up mediocre spots in their films with instinctual finesse, but then there are flashy directors like the one Lorenz might continue to be, who practice false emotional moments and confuse character simplicity for character subtlety. Both of them practice the idea of keeping things economical, but Eastwood is revealed here by this copycat to simply be frugal. Lorenz's emotional conveyances (like having a random little kid in a diner saying, "I miss daddy" while showing Bad Dad Gus) is downright cheap.
When Lorenz isn't working with cheese, often in a relationship between Adams and Timberlake that features scenes in which they spontaneously dance, and spontaneously jump in a pond, the first-time director sticks suspiciously close to the tried and true story elements that run like a checklist of Eastwood's own directorial filmography, the most glaring of borrowings likely being the element of child endangerment, which is thrown in towards the end. Other common Eastwood concepts now expressed limply by Lorenz include parental penance, optimistic cultivation on minority youth, feminism, Eastwood hating technology, and yes, the idea of talent speaking for itself, without using frills to show success (as exemplified by simply watching Eastwood slap together a more than decent movie year after year, and sometimes twice in one year).
No credit towards any possible desire of making an original expression, Lorenz is indeed lucky to have Eastwood on the screen, and not just in the sense that some people will like this movie simply because "Clint" is in it. He distracts from what's actually happening with this story, his presence satisfying until the story all but disappears once you leave the theater. Hell, some people might even walk away with this movie, satisfied that they saw Eastwood on screen for the first time since Gran Torino, and forget the part that Eastwood didn't direct this. In all sports, all-stars filling seats for bad teams is still all-stars filling seats for bad teams.
Robert Lorenz's Trouble with the Curve is obviously overshadowed by the man who clearly influenced the way he handles filmmaking, much like unsatisfactory spin-off musical acts seem to have obvious influence from their originating band's sound (unless we're talking about George Harrison, and Lorenz is clearly no Harrison). With Eastwood front and center and misused in some of the weakest ways possible, this syrupy film is a failed tribute to the legend, both in terms of copying form, and especially in terms of trying to build upon Eastwood's legacy.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10