Other than being mind-bendingly implausible and trite, there’s not that much wrong with “Trouble With the Curve,” the story of an aging baseball scout who takes to the road with his adult daughter to check out a promising high school player.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus, the crotchety caricature of a baseball lifer who is being chased out of his job as a scout for the Atlanta Braves by a smarmy whippersnapper of an assistant general manager who has the temerity to use the “interwebs,” to borrow a phrase from Gus, to evaluate player statistics.
If this sounds like “Trouble With the Curve” is relitigating the “Moneyball” debate from the Luddite point of view, well, that’s not far off. In “Moneyball,” the baseball executives with the computers and the statistical formulas are like creatively destructive capitalists, shaking up a senescent market. Here, they are heartless, willfully obtuse bean-counters who don’t understand the fundamentals of the game.
One of the big problems with the film, for those who pay attention to such things, is that it gets the baseball part of the movie wrong, in order to set the stage for Gus’s crowning glory. Of course, the technophobia is designed to appeal to older audiences, who might be inclined to sympathize with Gus for his dislike of computers, his uncooperative bladder and an overall stubbornness about compromise. Gus pounds this theme home with a steady stream of one-liners designed to show his general incomprehension of and contempt for the modern world.
The movie picks up when Gus heads out for what might well be his last scouting trip. Because his eyesight is failing, Gus’ boss Pete (John Goodman) persuades Gus‘ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go along for the ride. She’s a high-powered Atlanta attorney — proud, aloof and a workaholic — who risks losing a big case to support her dad, even though their relationship has been troubled since Gus left Mickey in the care of relatives when his wife died.
So the trip is a last hurrah in more ways than one. Gus has to decide whether a slugging high school prospect is worth the Braves‘ top pick in the amateur draft. And he has to repair the rift with his daughter before she gives up on him completely. Into that mix comes Johnny (Justin Timberlake), an ex-player looking to establish a new baseball career as a scout for the Red Sox. Johnny was scouted by Gus, and the two renew their friendship on the road. Johnny also takes an interest in Mickey — one that is not immediately requited because of her inability to connect on an emotional level. The movie staggers into the third reel with a half dozen loose ends that are tied up in an orgy of score settling and unlikely coincidence.
Despite these considerable structural flaws, “Trouble With the Curve” gets by on its likability. Mr. Timberlake is charismatic as the former player who masks his dreams of glory under a facade of persistent good cheer. It’s easy to root for Mickey, who is bound up by her troubled past, but yearns to connect with Gus and with Johnny. Their romance is handled in a slow, sweet and, by contemporary standards, remarkably chaste manner, as Johnny tries to coax Mickey out of her shell.
Mr. Eastwood has raised the cranky-old-man cliche to an art form. As in “Gran Torino,” he’s able to balance a hidebound exterior with a more nuanced inner life. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, and Mr. Eastwood appears to do it effortlessly.
TITLE: “Trouble With the Curve”
CREDITS: Directed by Robert Lorenz. Written by Randy Brown.
RATING: PG-13 for cussing, cigar chomping, and other curmudgeonly acts.
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS
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