Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In Theaters: TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by Robert Lorenz.  Written by Randy Brown.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard, Ed Lauter, Chelcie Ross, Ray Anthony Thomas, Bob Gunton, George Wyner, Jack Gilpin, Peter Hermann, Scott Eastwood. (PG-13, 110 mins)

Four years since he last appeared onscreen in 2008's GRAN TORINO, Clint Eastwood returns in the first film he's starred in without directing since 1993's IN THE LINE OF FIRE.  Longtime Eastwood assistant director/producing partner Robert Lorenz makes his directing debut with TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, and also demonstrates the same laid-back, leisurely-paced feel of many of Eastwood's late-career behind-the-camera efforts.  Unlike a lot of non-Clint-directed films that he probably backseat-directed but didn't care enough to take the credit (meaning, THE DEAD POOL or PINK CADILLAC or anything supposedly directed by his decades-long pal Buddy Van Horn), Lorenz probably was in charge on TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, if for no other reason than its utterly generic, Hallmark Channel TV-movie feel, right down to the bland, manipulative score by the usually reliable Marco Beltrami.  Eastwood's been composing his own jazzy scores for years.  There's no way Beltrami's by-the-numbers score would be on this if it was Eastwood's movie.

TROUBLE finds Clint in his now-standard "Get off my lawn!" mode, playing crusty old Atlanta Braves baseball scout Gus Lobel.  Gus is having prostate issues, needs a hearing aid, and his eyes are going bad, so the last thing he wants to deal with is the smug condescension of a snotty colleague (Matthew Lillard) who thinks he's an outdated relic and wants to push him out of the organization.  Gus has the support of front office exec and longtime friend Pete (John Goodman), who cajoles Gus' tomboy, baseball-loving lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) into accompanying the old man on a scouting trip to observe a much-ballyhooed high-school prospect in North Carolina.  Mickey's got plenty of unresolved issues with Gus, starting right after her mom's death in 1984, after which Gus sent six-year-old Mickey to live with an aunt & uncle.

The fill-in-the-blanks script by first-time screenwriter Randy Brown leaves no cliche unutilized and no heartstring untugged.  It would be pretty hard to take if not for a cast of pros, all of whom almost certainly signed on without even reading Brown's script just to get a chance to work with Clint.  And at this point in his life and career, all the man really needs to do is show up and be Clint and we're hooked.  Even at 82, he's still got the same screen presence he had nearly 50 years ago in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and as he's gotten older, no one has cornered the market on gruff, crotchety old bastards like Eastwood.  He doesn't try very hard here, because he doesn't have to, and he turns in a very natural performance that demonstrates a cozy familiarity that his fans, especially the now-elderly ones who've been with him since his TV days on RAWHIDE, clearly welcome.

But if you're looking for a realistic portrayal of "the game," this ain't it.  Demonstrating a definite anti-MONEYBALL mentality, TROUBLE gets behind Gus and his disdain for "those damn computers" that can't replicate the gut feeling that an experienced scout gets while watching a prospect.    Truthfully, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE isn't very good, but it gets a tremendous lift from the believably lived-in feel of the performances of Eastwood and Adams, plus Justin Timberlake as a burned-out former Braves pitcher turned White Sox scout.  There isn't a single plot development you won't see telegraphed 20 minutes before it happens.  Chances are, you'll even predict the maudlin dialogue before the actors even speak it.  But it just goes to prove how much a film can coast on someone as iconic as Eastwood.  He initially planned to retire from acting after GRAN TORINO, and TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE does feel rather slight and frivolous considering how much of a perfect screen career capper GRAN TORINO would've been.  But hey, it's Clint onscreen again, with his pants hiked up, chomping on stogies, scowling and bitching about everything, so why complain?

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