- Trouble With the Curve. Directed by Robert Lorenz. Starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake. Rating: 5 (out of 10)
THERE'S a scene in Trouble With The Curve where Clint Eastwood has a conversation with a gravestone.
It recalls Eastwood's infamous performance at last month's Republican National Convention, wherein the actor had a onesided conversation with an imaginary President Obama. But at least he didn't sing "You Are My Sunshine" to the head of state.
First-time director (but longtime Eastwood producer) Robert Lorenz pulls out all the sentimental stops in Trouble With The Curve, including having Eastwood's character sing a song to his dead wife. The term "singing" may be used loosely, as the 82year-old actor's trademark gravelly voice, which served him so well during his Harry Callahan years, has become flat and cadence-free.
Eastwood reprises his grouch routine from Gran Torino to play Gus Lobel, legendary baseball scout and official Crotchety Old Man. He kicks over tables, yells at waitresses and abuses just about everyone, including his only daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams).
Mickey is a successful lawyer who hasn't taken a Sunday off in seven years, eyeing a partnership at the firm. The senior partners like that she grew up in the dugout "with men who swore, drank and farted". She'll fit right in. Mickey and her father have a strained relationship, stemming from the death of her mother and the fact that Gus shipped her off to live with an uncle when she was six.
Gus is heading to the end of his contract with the Atlanta Braves. He's hiding debilitating vision problems. And when we meet him, he's eating from a half-empty can of Spam. (Overkill alert number one: he may be old and cranky, but he's not homeless or destitute.) His friend Pete (John Goodman) is having a hard time fighting back young upstarts who'd rather scout from a computer program than a baseball diamond and, true to stereotype, Gus still clips stats from newspapers and uses an old typewriter. (Overkill number two: he doesn't even know what the World Wide Web is properly called, much less how to use it.)
The film may have presented a touching elegy to the usefulness and vigor of youth had it not rammed Gus' impending dotage down our throats with Eastwood whispering "How old are you, sonny?" at the audience. The dialogue between Gus and Pete seems forced in Gus' empty kitchen, and just about everywhere else, as Mickey feels obliged to go to bat for her dad on a North Carolina road trip, though she may be committing a major error where her partnership is concerned.
Lo and behold, here comes Justin Timberlake as an old prospect of Gus' and a possible love interest for Mickey. The growing chemistry between Mickey and Johnny provides welcome respite from Gus' churlishness, even if we don't buy Johnny as a former pitching phenom.
Characters throughout are cookie-cutter, from the high school star who keeps talking about bangin' babes to the bespectacled, curly-haired weakling who precedes him at bat and the squeaky-clean Latino star who may be Gus' salvation (overkill alerts number three, four and five).
There's nothing wrong with a film that tidies all the loose ends and steps out onto the mound with the unabashed aim to please the crowd; but lame dialogue and elementary characters results in a film that's more Bad News Bears than Moneyball, a rare strikeout for the Oscar-winning Eastwood.