A film review by Craig J. Koban October 4, 2012


2012, PG-13, 111 mins.

Gus: Clint Eastwood / Mickey: Amy Adams / Pete Klein: John Goodman / Johnny: Justin Timberlake / Bo: Joe Massingil / Smitty: Chelcie Ross / Watson: Bob Gunton / Vince: Robert Patrick

Directed by Robert Lorenz / Written by Randy Brown.

The real trouble with TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is that it contains a relative smorgasbord of the most overused and tired clichés and conventions of the father/daughter sports redemption melodrama to the point where it becomes achingly derivative as a result.  

It takes a would-be tear-inducing story of an old man that reconnects with his semi-estranged daughter through their mutual love of the sport of baseball and paints it in such broad and obvious strokes that you can see with relative ease precisely where the story is going at every turn.  It’s all the more sad because the film contains a wellspring of seasoned and accomplished actors that are just sort of dutifully going through the motions here, pathetically attempting to mask this film’s otherwise pedestrian material.

I point a rather large finger wag of shame - in that aforementioned regard - to star Clint Eastwood, a filmmaking and acting icon that has reached a point in his nearly 60-year career in front of and behind the camera where he can do whatever he wishes.  TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE marks his return to feature film acting since 2008’s GRAND TORINO and his first as an actor in a film that he did not direct since 1993's IN THE LINE OF FIRE.  As a director in the winter of his life, Eastwood has acclimatized himself well as of late by tackling consistently varied and challenging subject matter with a young-hearted gusto and intrepidness.  He simply does not act much anymore, maybe because roles like the one in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE just languidly recycle the grizzled, grumpy, and broken down old men personas that he’s already played and played to better effect.  I relish at the thought of seeing Clint act on the big screen again, just not with the perfunctory raspy growl and snarling crotchetiness in this film that shows us absolutely nothing new that we have not seen from him before.  Too much of what Eastwood does here is of the been-there, done-that variety.



Worse yet is that the film places Eastwood within a narrative that seems to heavily borrow eye-rollingly sentimental and predictable beats from maudlin TV-movies-of-the-week.  In the film the 82-year-old actor plays Gus Lobel, a perpetually cranky and anti-social ol’ coot that’s essentially the very same cranky and anti-social ol’ coot that he played in GRAND TORINO, only this time he’s a pro baseball scout and not a retired auto-manufacturing worker.  Gus Lobel works for the Atlanta Braves as a scout and was, at a time, the most respected man in his field, but things have changed.  Firstly, he’s slowly going blind, which makes it increasingly harder for him to fool his fellow scouting colleagues.  Secondly, new young blood is coming in that – gasp! – are using high tech computer programs and simulations to nab high-end talent.  Funny, last year’s MONEYBALL touted the virtues of such coldly analytical approaches to selecting players for a winning team, whereas TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE staunchly preaches an anti-computer, anti-New Age, and pro-human experience and intuition process of drafting players.

Nonetheless, Gus is beginning to be seen as a dinosaur in his field, which worries his only friend and colleague, Pete (nicely played by John Goodman), who begins to hear words from head office that the Braves will not re-new Gus' upcoming contract.  Gus is too dang stubborn to listen to Pete’s words of warning, which leaves Pete taking drastic measures of pleading with Gus’ daughter - a high-powered and career-minded Atlanta lawyer named Mickey (Amy Adams) - to take time off from her very busy career to help her father on his next scouting trip in North Carolina.  Mickey deeply resents her father for what she sees as his abandoning of her decades ago, whereas Gus just resents any unnecessary human presence tagging along on his work trip.   Mickey risks jeopardizing a potential promotion to becoming a partner at her firm to help her dad, and their trip together only serves to open up old emotional wounds.  Thankfully, a hunky and charming Boston Red Sox scout named Johnny (Justin Timberlake) shows up along the way to provide Mickey with a companion to talk to and conveniently fall for when Gus becomes...well...overbearing as hell.

A lot of what transpires in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is awfully contrived and conveniently laid out.  You just know that Mickey’s promotion will be threatened by her insistence on staying "just another day longer" to help her father and you just know that Gus will resent her presence as a result with each new day that she tags along.  You also just know that Timberlake’s romantic suitor will opportunely show up – squeaky clean, void of any human flaws, and artificially constructed to be the everlasting nice-guy – to win over Mickey’s beleaguered soul and heart.  You also just know that something will come between Mickey and Johnny near the final act to separate them and then inevitably bring them back together at the film’s conclusion.  And…yup…you just know that Mickey and Gus will rekindle their family love for one another through their admiration of the sport while Gus, at the same time, reveals a long-hidden secret of why he abandoned his poor daughter all those years ago.

The characters in the film are not so much authentically realized and credible as there are rudimentary stock types.  Gus is the crabby sonovabitch that hates company; Mickey is one of those obnoxious career women with her face buried in her Blackberry every waking minute of the day for the job she loves more over her life; Johnny is a straight-laced good-guy with a heart of gold; and the character of Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) – a pro-scout who thinks that guys as old as dirt as Gus should be put to career death – is the repulsively preening office kiss-ass that thinks that computers are the way of the scouting future.  He’s tied into a subplot involving the Braves desperately wanting to sign a seemingly talented big-league swinger that he believes will be a star, but that Gus’s intuition says will be a dude.  This culminates in a truly hooky and mechanically laid out climax that involves Mickey, Gus, and one lowly, shy, and gifted motel clerk with a tremendous throwing arm that you just know will be used to reinforce what a clueless dick Phillip is for picking future major league stars.

Of the film's virtues I will say this: The radiant Amy Adams works miracles with her mournfully underwritten role that’s on pure auto-pilot, and her unforced chemistry with Eastwood is nicely understated and believable (the same can't be said of her scenes with Timberlake).  Yet, Mickey and Gus’ story arc never pushes any unpredictable buttons, nor does it take any calculable chances or dramatic risks; everything plays out with a nagging unavoidability.  Yet, it’s not the fault of first-time director Robert Lorenz (long-time friend and colleague of Mr. Eastwood), who shoots the film with a simple and to-the-point economy.  It’s the script by first-timer Randy Brown that pitifully tries to hit a Ron Shelton-esque home run but fails to even get on base. 

And then there’s Eastwood – God love ‘em – who, to be fair to him, plays an easily likeable a-hole in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE and does so with a relative and fluent ease, but his role and the film around it is just too easily derivative.  Gus just emerges as a thinly veiled reiteration of MILLION DOLLAR BABY’s Frankie Dunn and GRAN TORINO’s Walt Kowalski and not much more.  If roles like this continue to be offered to Eastwood, then he should stick with his other day job of directing. 

  H O M E