Last year, Moneyball proved that a movie could be made about baseball, the people who play it, the people who work for it and the people who love it could tell a compelling story in a whole new way. It showed true-life shrewd moves behind the scenes that changed the game as we know it.
But it doesn’t look like it changed baseball movies as we know it. Traditionalists (like the set-in-their-ways scouts who glared at Brad Pitt in Moneyball) who don’t want their baseball movies without the standard clichés will take comfort in Trouble With The Curve.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus, a veteran baseball scout whose best days may be behind him. His health and his eyesight are going, and his younger rivals within the Atlanta Braves organization question whether or not the old guy can cut it anymore. They’d like to seize the opportunity for Gus to screw up and they can move in to his territory. His kindly best friend (John Goodman) convinces Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go with him on a scouting trip, despite their strained father-daughter relationship.
Let’s take a moment to point out this clichéd script gave its grizzled lead character an older sounding name like “Gus,” and to hit us over the head that he always wanted a son, he named his daughter Mickey.
It’s a tough time for Mickey to make this trip – she’s up for partner in her law firm, where she’s struggling to prove a woman can be as good a lawyer as a man (yes, that’s a subplot in a movie set in the present day). Will the two reconnect and work out their differences?
Will the kid selling peanuts who throws a bag with authority turn out to have a million dollar pitching arm? Will Gus’ eye for talent be better than any of those new-fangled computer machines? Will the ace pitcher Gus went to see turn out to be a prick who gets his? Can director Robert Lorenz, a protégé of Eastwood’s, do anything to surprise us?
Perhaps Eastwood did this movie as a favor to Lorenz, as Eastwood has made some questionable choices lately. It’s not this column’s place to talk about his speech to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. That actually may have been a smart move if he needed to sell a movie about an old guy who may not have what it takes anymore. Movie fans though should be upset that after a wonderful performance as a curmudgeon with deep rooted issues in the drama Gran Torino, he rescinded his retirement to play a curmudgeon with deep rooted issues in Trouble With The Curve. He left us with a great performance and came back with a watered-down version of the same character. Clint Eastwood is an often-times genius director. He didn’t need to do this at all.
Neither did Amy Adams or Justin Timberlake, who typically shine in anything they’re in. In this case, Timberlake’s character – a former player who’s now a scout himself – does add some freshness to the tired script. The commercials would have you think his character is a cocky pretty boy Gus doesn’t approve of for his daughter. In truth, Timberlake’s character was a Gus discovery, and he’d like to see the two of them get together. Their storyline doesn’t break any barriers, but the two young actors do have a nice romantic chemistry between them, and Gus’ relationship with his discovery is kind of refreshing.
Which is great when you’re watching a movie that follows such a predictable pattern and is so ridiculously old-fashioned. Anything connected to technology is inherently evil – a computer can’t tell you a guy’s instincts – and those damn cell phones! The movie may want to pat itself on the back for trying to illustrate a woman can do anything a man can – but in 2012 is it not ridiculous to think that not only do no women work in Mickey’s law firm but also no women work anywhere for the Atlanta Braves? The only way she can prove herself in either world is to act like one of the boys?
But what she really needs to do for peace of mind is fix things with her father. OK, fine. The movie hints that there’s a deep-seated reason why Gus and Mickey are estranged. There’s a neat special effect in the reveal, but when all is said and done, you think: that was it?
The trouble with Trouble With The Curve is it never throws us one.