Clint Eastwood’s first film as an actor for a director other than himself since “In the Line of Fire” in 1993, “Trouble With the Curve” is a corny, conventional and quite enjoyable father-daughter reconciliation story set mostly in the minor league baseball world of the South.
Playing a sort of PG-13-rated version of his ornery coot in “Gran Torino,” Eastwood is vastly entertaining as an old-fashioned scout who disdains computers and statistical charts in favor of his own time-tested instincts.
Making his directorial debut, Eastwood’s longtime producer, Rob Lorenz, knows just how to pitch the story to take advantage of the humorous side of his star’s obstinate crankiness, and Amy Adams makes a good match as the career-driven daughter with festering resentments.
As in “Gran Torino” four years ago, Eastwood does not hesitate to spotlight the debilitations of old age, as his Gus Lobel struggles with vision problems and stumbles into a coffee table at his modest home. A legendary baseball scout responsible for discovering some major stars in his day, Gus is one of the last of the cigar-chompers, a guy who relies on what he sees, hears and intuits, but with just three months left on his contract with the Atlanta Braves, “may be ready for pasture.”
His only kid, conspicuously named Mickey (Amy Adams), is a high-powered young Atlanta lawyer on the verge of becoming a partner at her firm. Still stewing over having been palmed off on relatives when her mother died young so Gus could continue to troll the minors for talent, Mickey has commitment issues with men, and the last thing this workaholic could imagine is accompanying her dad through Southern backwaters on what could be his final swing. But her old man’s pal (John Goodman) talks her into it, suggesting that it could be a last chance to patch things up.
First-time screenwriter Randy Brown comes through with what feels like a solid hit through the infield that scores a couple of runs. When Mickey joins her dad in North Carolina, their nearly every exchange almost immediately turns into an argument that ends with her stomping out and him telling her to go home.
But good sense and interesting developments keep her around: A former recruit of Gus’, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), who made it to the bigs, then threw his arm out and is a Red Sox scout, starts hound-dogging Mickey. She has great baseball sense herself and, alongside Gus, evaluates the season’s top prospect, Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a beefy slugger who hits it out nearly every time he comes up to the plate.
Filming in a charming old minor league park and peppering the stands with veteran baseball guys provides nice echoes of the game the way it used to be. And it feels good when director Lorenz also brings his star back to the sort of working class settings — Southern honky-tonks, pool halls, cheap motels, cut-rate sports facilities — where his characters used to spend a good deal of time.
In a modest, appealing way, “Trouble With the Curve” is another last-stand-of-the-old-timers movie, which might include “Gran Torino,” “Space Cowboys” and “In the Line of Fire,” with Eastwood as actor and sometimes director, in which experience, intuition and character get to carry the day against technology, numbers and other newfangled developments.
Even though he’s still in the minors, the outsized Gentry amusingly carries on as if he already knows he’s the new century’s Babe Ruth, refusing to low-five his third-base coach when he hits homers and boasting of glories to come. But despite his deteriorating vision, Gus has suspicions, as suggested by the film’s title, that Gentry has a fatal weakness.
It’s a conviction he shares with Mickey, who contributes to her father’s cause in a surprising, if somewhat far-fetched, way.
Having begun with Eastwood as a second assistant director on “The Bridges of Madison County” in 1995 and working as a producer or executive producer on his films since 2002, Lorenz knows well his collaborator’s strengths as an actor and doesn’t stray far from the style and tone customary at Malpaso, Eastwood’s production company.
This is a handsomely directed film; there’s a nice crispness to the pacing and images, as Lorenz keeps things moving briskly.
Adams scores as the career woman who’s a tomboy at heart and discovers some new horizons by breaking with her routine.
Timberlake is energetic but too puppy-doggish as her eager suitor; given Johnny’s background as a failed would-be baseball player, some shades of regret and disappointment would have deepened the character.
Distinctive character actors such as Goodman; Matthew Lillard, playing a Braves scouting executive contemptuous of Gus’ antiquated ways; and Robert Patrick, as the team’s hard-nosed GM, are hardly tested but lend weight to the supporting cast.
But, of course, the show belongs to Eastwood. Still physically fit enough to pitch to his daughter for fun, Gus may be an anachronism, but like the actor who plays him, he remains a force to contend with.