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Trouble With the Curve

Let’s get something straight before we proceed. They’ll be no ragging in this review at Clint Eastwood’s odd and gigantically derided performance at the GOP’s Tampa convention last month. No cheaply gratuitous slam-dunk cracks. No, there’s quite enough to razz or gripe about in his latest movie, Trouble With the Curve. Directed by Robert Lorenz, it’s a crudely self-indulgent wallow in worn-to-the-nub pop-culture cliches and sentimental triteness.

One of the movie’s characters jibes at another about his “Dr. Phil” proclivity, but the tendentiously superficial TV therapist is a virtual model of bracing insightfulness next to Lorenz and scripter Randy Brown’s ineptly deployed mush and banality. Some of it comes from baseball’s hoary self-promotional traditions; more is just Hollywood hokum.

The setup of Brown’s original screenplay is a platform for the filmmakers’ insistently sentimental appeals. Eastwood is Gus, a very senior scout for the Atlanta Braves of indeterminate age. (Eastwood is 82.) From the outset, we’re bluntly clued in to Gus’s infirmities and failing health. But he won’t quit, even as he faces a contract expiration in three months. Conveniently enough, he’s supposed to scout a hot high school prospect in North Carolina, while the team’s management is growing skeptical about his abilities. Not without cause, even though Gus’s old friend, the team’s director of scouting (John Goodman, stolidly loyal, caring, and boring, though this isn’t Goodman’s fault) runs interference for him. He even guilt-trips Gus’s semi-estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), who’s busy vying for a partnership at a white-shoe law firm, to drop everything and make sure Gus isn’t screwing things up in North Carolina. Which brings her into proximity to a cute former pitching ace, a protégé of her dad and now a scout for the Red Sox (Justin Timberlake). Which gives Mickey a chance at true love and the movie an opportunity to subject us to a lot of sappy dialogue about abandonment issues and Gus’s emotional unavailability and parental failures.

Trouble’s soap-opera slog is supposed to be leavened by warmly comedic interjections, which principally involves Gus’s cantankerously crusty independence, something Eastwood does more than well enough. He had practice at this kind of thing when he directed himself in Gran Torino several years ago. Lorenz may have been at the helm of this one, but this is really another Eastwood creation, albeit one in which he didn’t have to work as hard. Lorenz is a longtime Eastwood amanuensis, and Eastwood probably directed himself for the most part. (Otherwise, the direction is pedestrian at best.)

One scene that’s almost excruciating humorous, unintentionally, has Gus talking to his wife’s tombstone—a device that was hard to take when John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon used it over 60 years ago—and suddenly breaking into a recitation of the lyrics to “You Are My Sunshine.” If anything in this movie gives any credence to the jokes about Eastwood’s possible doddering state in Tampa, it’s this scene.

Oops! I’ve violated my own stricture. Oh, what the hell!

Watch the trailer for Trouble With the Curve

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