Despite a recent mishap involving an empty chair meant to be President Barack Obama, actor Clint Eastwood has been relatively out of sight when it comes to the press. He mostly turns up at awards shows come January every year or so, and he’s perhaps best known at this point for his work behind the camera on mainstream fare, intelligent or even thought-provoking entertainment like “Letters to Iwo Jima” and “Mystic River” — or far less savory works like “Hereafter,” and the well-intentioned misfire of a biopic in 2011’s Oscar bait “J. Edgar.” There’s little doubt the actor/director will maintain his iconic status until his final days, but “Trouble with the Curve” finds Eastwood on cranky autopilot.
The film offers a simple enough premise, following an ornery baseball scout named Gus (Eastwood) who is practically forced to take his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) along with him on a recruiting trip, emotions flaring up as Mickey has been desperately seeking Gus’s validation for years. But unfortunately this isn’t the tale of a sentimental journey to the heart of an old scrooge one would hope for – instead it’s more of one long “You’re old!” joke that adds a couple of destestable third act twists. Eastwood is in full-on “Gran Torino” mode here, only now he’s not racist and alone, but rather someone who hates technology, modern love, and anything that has advanced since he was in his prime. The old age jokes grow stale after about the first one, but what this really makes way for is the fact that everyone in “Trouble With The Curve” wears their character’s intentions right on their sleeve, offering no depth or need to become invested in any of the events in the film because we pretty much know where it’s all going.
Mickey is a workaday lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, whose sole purpose seems to be to hound her father – who CLEARLY wants very little to do with her – until he tells her exactly why he treats her so poorly. Side characters like Justin Timberlake’s role as a fellow scout for the Boston Red Sox are largely insubstantial, as the very little we learn about him, and all his actions in the film, never really amounts to much. There seems to be a completely different film going on when Timberlake is on-screen, and we’re left to watch as he fumbles around with Adams in an effort to create some sort of romantic chemistry. These scenes all follow the guidelines of a formulaic romantic comedy, complete with skinny dipping, dancing along to a street musician, and all the other bland, clichéd hallmarks of the genre. Adams and Timberlake are are fine, and do what they can, but they weren’t given much to work with here.
Longtime Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz makes his directorial debut, and there’s really not much to say about the sort of technical prowess or directorial sensibilities on display. Lorenz has served as a producer, assistant director, and on other various positions on Eastwood projects for over a decade, and he certainly chooses from Eastwood’s stable of creatives, with folks like cinematographer Tom Stern joining in to give the film a little visual zest. Lorenz is a journeyman behind the camera, with his storytelling techniques leaning heavily towards to his buddy Eastwood, the only main criticism of his work being perhaps that he never truly allows the film to come alive.
As for screenwriter Randy Brown, he writes with all the subtlety of a Lifetime movie. A late reveal concerning the relationship between Eastwood and Adams’ characters is so incredibly contrived and poorly executed, we can’t imagine how it wasn’t excised before final cut. Then, towards the end of the third act, we have a moment that sees Adams present another one of the film’s lifeless side characters with an, admittedly surprising, but groan-worthy opportunity of “The Blind Side” proportions.
As you might guess, "Trouble With The Curve" doesn't offer much nuance and attempts to reach emotional heights mostly via close-ups of Clint Eastwood welling-up while staring directly into the camera, while leaving a whole army of a cast completely underutilized. (Did we mention that John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, and about a handful of other recognizable thespians are in this too?) Despite the immense talent on hand, something has certainly gone wrong along the way. Undoubtedly, many will be left longing for Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball." While that film is more baseball-centric than “Trouble With The Curve,” it was also filled with rich, complex characters that were worth caring about, and better yet, a story that was worth investing in.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that with “Trouble With The Curve,” and we’re left with a film that’s lifeless and below everyone who’s on screen. Lacking narrative momentum, saddled with thin characterizations and uninspired plotting, "Trouble With The Curve" should've stayed on the bench. [D]