How far can the chemistry of a cast get you? Director Robert Lorenz tests that very theory with his film ‘Trouble with the Curve’, a very old fashioned and harmless flick that coasts along on the goodwill generated by its actors. For some, that might be enough, but I wanted more. The interactions between Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams are mostly enjoyable, with something similar being said for how both of them deal with Justin Timberlake, but at the same time the acting is a bit on the disappointing side. Eastwood growls instead of acts, Adams never finds a consistent tone for her character (though much of that can fall on the shoulders of the flawed script by newbie writer Randy Brown), and Timberlake is mostly a plot device. I went into this movie with an open mind, despite Eastwood making a recent caricature out of himself, but it’s hard not to see this film as being pretty mediocre any which way that you slice it. The flick opens on Friday and while I’m not completely warning you away, I do want to make it clear that this is not a good film and will likely disappoint those who have been looking forward to seeing it. The movie struggles to be anything above average, and I want more than that from my cinema.
Gus Lobel (Eastwood) is a scout for the Atlanta Braves struggling through what might very well be his last season in baseball. No one knows it yet, but Gus’ vision is going, which is problem when his job is to go see these young high school, college, and minor league players with his own eyes. His longtime friend and boss Pete Klein (John Goodman) believes in him, but a rival assistant named Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) is only concerned with statistics and sees Gus as a relic from the past. The team’s General Manager (Robert Patrick) doesn’t know what to think yet, but agrees to let Pete assign Gus to scout Bo Gentry, a hitter who might very well be their top pick in the upcoming draft. Just to be sure though, Pete convinces Mickey (Adams), the attorney daughter that Gus has a strained relationship with, to come along and help out her dad. Against her better judgment (and because he taught her everything he knows at an early age when her mother passed away), she comes along, sparring with him all the way. While looking at Gentry, they meet Johnny Flanagan (Timberlake) a former pitching stud turned scout with dreams of a broadcasting career. Gus initially signed Johnny, so there’s a kinship there, but Johnny is really interested in Mickey. Of course, these three will come together in all the ways you’d expect, with some token baseball scenes thrown in for good measure. Mostly, the story is an excuse to watch Eastwood complain and fight for the old school way of doing things.
I may not have been a fan of most of Clint Eastwood’s recent directorial endeavors (he’s really been on a downhill slide since ‘Million Dollar Baby’, give or take ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’), but if he plans on permanently growling and lightly cursing instead of acting, then he should just stay behind the camera from now on. He may not be arguing with furniture (I had to get one of those in), but he’s not really acting and it bothered me immensely. I wasn’t big on his performance in ‘Gran Torino’, but that’s award worthy compared to what he’s doing here. He just doesn’t appear to even be trying anymore. Amy Adams fares much better, but her inherent likability proves an issue and her sunny disposition is at odds with the supposed coldness that her character is supposed to exude. She’s hardly bad in the movie, but I was a bit disappointed with her, especially after recently seeing her do such strong work in ‘The Master’. I’d argue that Justin Timberlake is the best of the three, only because it’s the simplest role and he has the least to do. He’s certainly charming, but too often he’s used to further the plot along. As for the supporting cast, John Goodman is absolutely wasted as the guy pulling for Gus in the front office, while Matthew Lillard is cartoonishly evil as the stats junkie clearly making fun of Jonah Hill’s character from ‘Moneyball’. Robert Patrick barely registers as the General Manager, and that goes for the rest of the cast, which includes the likes of Bob Gunton, Jack Gilpin, George Wyner, and Joe Massingill (who’s overly cartoonish as well playing the self absorbed prospect that everyone is fawning over). It’s a big deal to see Clint Eastwood act these days, but I wouldn’t call what he did here acting at all.
Robert Lorenz makes his directorial debut an unmemorable one by aping Eastwood’s filmmaking style at every turn. It’s hardly a coincidence that much of the behind the camera crew are the same as Clint’s, since Lorenz is a longtime producer for Eastwood. He even maintains the habit that Eastwood has of choosing mediocre scripts. The screenplay that Randy Brown turned in is overly simplistic and oftentimes just bland. Brown gives Gus selective eyesight issues and goes for melodrama over logic at all turns The only opinion that the film seems to have is that the method of running a team shown in ‘Moneyball’ is bad. That argument would be a little easier to consider if the movies were of even comparable quality, but that’s not the case. The direction is fine but unspectacular, while the writing leaves much to be desired, stranding the talented cast.
When ‘Trouble with the Curve’ opens this weekend, I’m sure it will do decent to good business, and I don’t begrudge it that success. I merely wish that the product were better. Some have suggested that Clint Eastwood should have directed the film himself, but I’m not convinced that it would have made a difference. A better script and a real effort from Eastwood in the lead would have saved this flick, but we didn’t get that. The end result is severe mediocrity and a movie that you’re likely to forget shortly after seeing…
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Tags: Amy Adams, Clint Eastwood, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, Randy Brown, Robert Lorenz, Robert Patrick, Trouble with the Curve