Not that long ago the world saw Clint Eastwood share a stage with an empty chair and seemed to collectively realize, “whooboy, that guy might have gotten too old for performing.” Now, we have Trouble With the Curve to help confirm those fears. Eastwood is one of the great movie stars who somehow managed to turn himself into a pretty damn good director. But stick around on this planet long enough and you’ll inevitably loose touch with what the kids are up to. His decline was apparent over his last few movies, which seemed increasingly tossed off and forced out in a workmanlike manner. He didn’t officially direct Trouble With the Curve, but it’s the first feature by his former assistant director Robert Lorenz and it sure feels like an Eastwood movie. You can practically hear a PA scream “lunch!” or “nap time!” after some of the laziest sequences. Granted, it’s a movie about getting old, so at least the guy seems conscious of what’s happening. It’s just also a movie that relies on such creaky storytelling, themes, and drama that it would be entirely believable to learn that the script was originally written in the 50s and happened to be produced last year.
In the first sign that the movie is a wee bit out of touch, the plot hinges on Easwood’s old school baseball scout determined to prove that his way of finding players is better than all the high tech new stats-based scouting from last year’s Moneyball (those techniques were considered new and groundbreaking over ten years ago now, but let’s not dwell on that). Eastwood has been with the Braves for decades, spotting and nourishing franchise stars like Dusty Baker and Tom Glavine. These days, he’s struggling. His last great find is struggling in the minors and Matthew Lillard’s new hotshot exec wants the dinosaur scout fired. Fortunately, Eastwood’s buddy John Goodman still works in the organization and gets the old guy one last chance. They want someone to take a look at a new batting prospect who seems perfect on paper even though he’s somewhat of a cocky prick. Eastwood heads down to check things out, but with his eyesight failing, Goodman insists that his estranged daughter (Amy Adams) go with him. Adams was barely raised by her father and resented him all the way to a hotshot lawyer career she pursued with the same intensity that her daddy gave to baseball. She’s got a big meeting coming up that could earn her a partnership (obviously), but agrees to go because she secretly knows and loves baseball even more than her father. Together they bicker and scout, meeting up with Justin Timberlake’s former pitching phenom turned reluctant scout/hopeful future announcer. Eastwood suggests he and Adams get together because he always liked him, so he essentially scouted the love of his daughter’s life (get it?). Yadayadayada, bridges mended, happy ending.
It’s a premise as old as it’s star, carried out even more predictably than it sounds. First time screenwriter Randy Brown clearly read a few books on script structure and follows the conventions slavishly. Some may find the expected beats heartwarming, most will find them dull and inevitable. Even the way the characters are presented seems hopelessly out of date. Adams and Timberlake’s big date starts out with clod dancing and ends with meeting a magical blues busker in the street, with neither moment presented with even a whiff of irony. The young prospect is presented as a bad person because he discusses getting laid, as if being sexually active before marriage is still shocking. In fact, all of the villain characters may as well have giant mustaches to twirl. Baseball is an old fashioned game and most of the movies about the subject tend to hinge on magic nostalgia. There’s nothing wrong with that, in general it works (as recently as last year). But Trouble With The Curve pushes that old timey quality too far. We’re actually supposed to believe that Eastwood can identify the flaw in a prospect’s swing by the sound of contact and the screenplay contrivance that leads Adams to find an actual superstar prospect is laughable.
Eastwood growls his way through the role with the husky, desperate breaths of Gran Torino. His role hinges on the “I’m too old for this shit” humor that he’s been treading water with since 1990. There’s no denying that the guy still has screen presence, but with an obvious hunch and most scenes played sitting down for reasons that probably have more to do with him and the character, it’s kind of sad to see him trot out the old tricks again. These sorts of movies are a victory lap for actors of his stature and should only be done when the material is worth it, not simply for the sake of it. Timberlake is woefully miscast as a humble failure and has little to do. Adams is strong enough to avoid embarrassment, but not even she can make it believable that a rising star attorney who hates her father secretly wanted to be a baseball scout her entire life. The rest of the supporting cast are fine, but have little screen time.
Trouble With the Curve isn’t the worst movie ever made, nor is it even close to the weakest movie of Eastwood’s career. It might be dull and old fashioned, but I suppose it’s perfectly watchable for passive viewers who like baseball or the aging movie star. It’s just instantly forgettable and brings nothing new to the baseball movie genre that’s already overstuffed with these cliched entries. Let’s face it, Eastwood doesn’t have much time left and if he’s going to keep making movies, they’ve got to be better than this. I suppose after a career of major hits as a actor and surprising triumphs as a director, cranking out easily digestible cheese probably feels like retirement. But Clint, if you have to keep working, please find something that you’re genuinely passionate it about. Forgettable fluff like this is a waste of your time and ours.