- Associated Press - Thursday, September 6, 2012

LOS ANGELES— A week after Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention, mocking continues about the Hollywood veteran’s peculiar, rambling conversation with an imaginary President Obama in an empty chair, raising the question: Will his latest film also be playing to empty seats when it debuts this month?

Mr. Eastwood’s nearly 12-minute-long speech, directed partially to an invisible Mr. Obama, has fired up a social media meme that shows no signs of cooling. It includes the popular #Eastwooding and the @InvisbleObama account on Twitter, as well as jokey videos of the infamous seat hosting a news conference and a montage of empty chairs plopped into Eastwood film scenes.

While such ridicule plays well online, it could prove disastrous at the box office when “Trouble With the Curve” opens nationwide Sept. 21. The film stars Mr. Eastwood as a past-his-prime baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves who is accompanied by his lawyer daughter, played by “The Fighter” actress Amy Adams, on a last-chance scouting trip to North Carolina.

“If you’re a Clint Eastwood fan, my guess is you’ll probably still go to see the movie,” said S. Mark Young, co-author of “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America” and professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “If you’re not, you might be very disappointed with what’s become of Clint.”

The movie, which also stars Justin Timberlake as a rival scout, is directed by Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz and is being distributed by Warner Bros. A studio spokeswoman declined to comment about whether the film’s marketing campaign would be tweaked in light of Mr. Eastwood’s odd convention appearance. He still is expected to attend the film’s junket and premiere.

Leonard Hirshan, Mr. Eastwood’s longtime manager, said the 82-year-old actor-director likely will appear on one talk show to promote the film. He wasn’t sure which one. Mr. Hirshan didn’t originally know that Mr. Eastwood was planning to appear at the convention in Tampa, Fla. He noted that Mr. Eastwood doesn’t employ a personal representative and usually “chooses to do what he wants to do.”

Although he has been a Hollywood staple, Mr. Eastwood has never conformed to Hollywood standards. He is a flag-waving Republican, a fiscal conservative who takes left-leaning stands on social issues such as gay marriage. He made waves with right-wingers this year when he starred in a Super Bowl spot for Chrysler LLC, a company that benefited from government support.

Despite the continued roasting of Mr. Eastwood’s RNC shenanigans online, Mr. Young said, moviegoers often are forgiving of such bizarre, broadcast-for-the-masses moments. He cited Tom Cruise as an example. Mr. Cruise still draws crowds to theaters even after he wildly jumped on Oprah Winfrey’s couch and called Matt Lauer “glib” on NBC’s “Today” show.

“If people go to see ‘Trouble With the Curve,’ it’s probably not because they side or don’t side with Clint’s political beliefs,” said Mr. Young. “They’re going to go to be entertained, whether they like movies about baseball or just the stuff that Mr. Eastwood has done in the past.”

Moviegoers aren’t the only audience Mr. Eastwood might have to worry about after his speech. There is also left-leaning Hollywood. Mr. Eastwood’s “Curve” performance already has been bandied about as an awards contender. Could his empty-chair act have undermined his chances at capturing more Oscars?

“The fallout and embarrassment from what he did is probably punishment enough for Clint,” said Scott Feinberg, awards analyst and blogger for the Hollywood Reporter. “Ultimately, I don’t think his 11-minute speech can undo his 50-plus-year legacy in Hollywood.”

Mr. Feinberg noted that actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master,” John Hawkes in “The Sessions” and Denzel Washington in “Flight” were considered more likely front-runners for best actor nods even before Mr. Eastwood’s appearance.

It wouldn’t be the first time he was passed over. Mr. Eastwood, who won best picture and director Academy Awards for 1992’s “Unforgiven” and 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby,” hasn’t received Oscar love since 2007, when “Letters From Iwo Jima” was nominated for the same prizes.

“This may actually have the reverse effect and cause sympathy for him,” said Tom O’Neil, editor of the awards site GoldDerby.com. “The Oscars are all about hugs— who we love and who we don’t in Hollywood. There was something endearing about him taking a chance up there and embracing his politics. It took guts. That’s kind of what you expect from Dirty Harry.”